To say that teachers are essential to our society would be an understatement. Teachers spend an enormous amount of time with our children – around 25 hours each week during the school year – and they play a key role in how the kiddos grow, learn, and develop. The U.S. Department of Education called teachers the “backbone of our democracy,” and we would have to agree.
Without teachers, our society would most certainly fall apart.
This necessity makes it all the more important that we give teachers and educators the resources they need to excel. At the Lento Law Firm, we believe that includes protecting their licenses against allegations of wrongdoing.
It's no secret, after all, that most state agencies don't make the disciplinary process easy, and that's true in Wisconsin as well.
Teachers and educators accused of professional misconduct can find themselves in a stressful and confusing situation, with little to no guidance to help them out. This can leave you feeling intimidated and overwhelmed, and that can make it difficult to prepare your best defense.
That's why our Professional License Defense Team works with teachers and other professionals around the country. We want to make sure you're able to present your case and achieve the best possible outcome. We'll fight for your rights and help you defend your teaching license, so there's no need to wait. If you've been accused of professional misconduct or wrongdoing, contact us or call our office at (888) 535-3686 to talk about your options.
Educator Regulation Through The Department Of Public Instruction
While some states delegate the regulation of educators to their state board of education, Wisconsin relies on its Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to oversee the licensing process of teacher regulation. This includes background checks and credential reviews, as well as managing training and reporting requirements.
Potential educators have several options to obtain licensing in Wisconsin and may apply for one of three license types:
- Provisional License - this is a five-year license offered to educators who are new to the area or to the profession. This license type can be renewed as needed. Substitute teachers fall under this category as well and can apply for a one or three-year option, depending on educational background and other factors.
- Lifetime Educator License - a teacher can apply for this type of license after holding the Provisional License and having at least six semesters of teaching. This license type does not need to be renewed.
- Master Educator License - teachers can apply for this license type with a national board certification. Master Educator Licenses do not need to be renewed.
In addition to this initial oversight, the DPI Teacher Education, Professional Development and Licensing (TEPDL) team conducts an annual audit of all Wisconsin public school districts to verify all staff members are sufficiently licensed.
When it comes to disciplinary matters, however, the state's superintendent is responsible for educator regulation and disciplinary enforcement, including license revocation, suspension, and the refusal to renew. These actions are performed in cooperation with the DPI, but it is the state superintendent that makes the final decision.
Allegations That Can Endanger A Teacher's License In Wisconsin
Because teachers and educators have extensive and direct contact with children, states tend to take any kind of misconduct very seriously. Wisconsin is no exception, and as you might expect, the state has a broad explanation of actions and behaviors that could constitute professional wrongdoing:
- Incompetence - the state defines this as “a pattern of inadequate performance of duties or the lack of ability, legal qualifications or fitness to discharge required duties, and which endangers the health, welfare, safety or education of any pupil.”
- Immoral conduct - the state defines this as “conduct or behavior that is contrary to commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and that endangers the health, safety, welfare, or education of any pupil.” This category can also include the following:
- Use of school equipment to download, view, solicit, seek, display, or distribute pornographic material;
- Helping another person obtain work in an educational capacity while knowing or suspecting the person has committed a sex offense with a minor or pupil.
- Federal tax delinquency
- Failure to pay child support or family support
- Failure to comply with a subpoena or warrant issued by the Department of Children and Families (or a county child support agency)
- Revocation of an educator's license in another state
- Conviction of certain felonies
Having this breadth in its definitions helps the state ensure it covers all potential violations while giving it the ability to make individual determinations as needed, depending upon the specifics of a given case. It also ensures parents that educators are held to the highest of standards and that these high expectations will continue to be enforced throughout the duration of the license.
As in most states, teachers are considered mandatory reporters in Wisconsin and are required to report any acts of child abuse or neglect. Failure to do so could result in disciplinary action that includes a fine of up to $1,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both.
Regular training (administered by the school board) is also mandatory, and must be completed within six months of hiring and every five years thereafter.
A Look At The Disciplinary Process For Licensed Teachers In Wisconsin
Complaints are submitted to the DPI and can be made by a variety of concerned parties, including parents and caregivers, news media, other educators, or a school district's administrator.
The agency will open an investigation and notify the employing school district. The superintendent will post the name of the person being investigated on the DPI's website. However, all specifics regarding the allegations are kept confidential while the investigation is open. The only thing shared with the public is that an investigation is underway.
Of course, this can create problems for the teacher in question, especially if you are not able to clear your name in a timely manner.
While state law requires the DPI to notify you (in writing) of the charges and to give you an opportunity to present a defense, it does not require the agency to grant you a hearing while the investigation is open. In fact, the statute that triggers your right to a hearing only comes into play when the investigation has been completed and the superintendent has determined that the revocation of your educator's license is the proper course of action.
In addition, although state law prohibits revoking an active license while the investigation is still ongoing, it doesn't prohibit potential employers from refusing to hire you. That means your career could be suspended for an indefinite amount of time while the DPI conducts its investigation.
This can be extremely problematic for teachers and educators accused of wrongdoing, especially if you're trying to navigate this process on your own. Working with the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can remove some of the stress during this difficult time and help you present your best defense.
What Disciplinary Actions Can Be Taken Against Wisconsin Teachers?
In matters where the DPI determines that the teacher has been convicted of a felony relating to “life and bodily security” or “crimes against children,” the superintendent can revoke the teacher's license without a hearing. Licenses revoked under this rule may not be reinstated for at least six years and then only when the teacher “establishes by clear and convincing evidence that he or she is entitled to reinstatement.”
In matters of incompetency and immoral behavior, revocation is also a possibility; the final decision is at the discretion of the superintendent and may include other punishments, penalties, and requirements.
In matters where the teacher or educator has had a license revoked in another state or has failed to pay federal taxes, revocation is required by state law. In the latter violation, the teacher's license can be reinstated after the delinquent tax bill has been resolved and verification of the payment has been made. If the delinquency is for child support or family support payments, the teacher's license will be suspended.
NOTE: If you have received a notice that a complaint has been filed against you or that an investigation has been opened, it is crucial that you contact our office as soon as possible. Time is of the essence, and the sooner we can formulate a strategy, the easier it will be to navigate. Having an experienced Professional License Defense Team at your side is the best way to deal with these issues, and we want to help you face this challenge as painlessly as possible.
Can My Teaching License Be Reinstated In Wisconsin?
Yes, although the state has detailed rules about how and when. As mentioned above, for example, licenses revoked due to back taxes can be reinstated after the tax bill has been satisfied. Revocation due to conviction of a felony, however, requires a waiting period of no less than six years and includes a requirement that the teacher must be able to prove his or her “worthiness” for reinstatement. You must also establish “by clear and convincing evidence that the cause of the revocation no longer exists and that reinstating the license will not endanger the health, welfare, safety or education of pupils.”
To request reinstatement for charges that revolved around incompetency or immoral actions, the educator must submit a request in writing to the state's superintendent. If the request is denied, the teacher can request an administrative hearing.
How Do I Request A Hearing (And What Should I Expect)?
When the superintendent determines that the allegations are true, based on a preponderance of the evidence, notice must be issued to the teacher, including both the charges and the intent to revoke. As the licensee, you have the right to request a hearing within thirty days and – this is important – if you do not make that request, your license will be revoked after the thirty-day period has expired.
Your request must be submitted to the superintendent in writing. Within ten days of receiving your request, you should then file a formal Answer, meaning you respond to all the allegations. From here, the process and time frame differ, depending upon the specific purpose of the hearing.
A revocation hearing will occur within ninety days of your request for example, while a hearing to appeal a denial has a sixty-day window. You will be notified via mail regarding any hearing dates and other case-related issues. You are also entitled to be represented by legal counsel, and in matters of revocation and reinstatement, you can call witnesses and conduct discovery.
A hearing examiner is appointed by the state's superintendent, and this person will have the authority to compel discovery, impose sanctions, and establish a proposed ruling on your case.
And as mentioned before, the state's superintendent has the final decision.
Does The Lento Law Firm Serve All Of Wisconsin?
Yes! We work with teachers and educators from across the country, and that includes every city and county within the state of Wisconsin.
That means teachers working in Wisconsin's smaller communities – such as Portage, Grafton, and of course, Washington Island, home of the state's smallest school district – can benefit from the same professional legal assistance as teachers in cities like Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Racine.
The same is true with school districts. From Albany and Algoma to Howards Grove, Johnson Creek, and Northland Pines, the Lento Law Firm is ready to help you defend your teaching license against allegations of misconduct.
Contact The Lento Law Firm Team To Protect Your Teacher's License
Being a teacher isn't easy. But you worked hard to get where you are, and you're providing a great service to your community. Let us help you protect your career and defend your reputation.
Our law firm has many years of experience working with teachers and educators just like you. We know how stressful allegations of misconduct can be, and we know how difficult it must feel to be facing this kind of ordeal on your own. So, don't.
We know how to navigate the disciplinary process, and it doesn't matter whether you've just received a notice of a complaint or you're fighting to keep your license. We have the experience you need to face what lies ahead, and we'll fight to help you achieve the best possible outcome.
Our firm can help you prepare a defense, respond to discovery requests, and gather evidence. We can also represent you in interactions with the DPI and the superintendent, file an appeal if needed, and even negotiate your case to get the best possible terms. And isn't that what you need right now? Someone to fight for you when the state and its agency seem to be holding all the cards?
We know this is stressful. We know it's scary. Let us help.