As a certified teacher in California, you know better than anyone how hard you've worked to get to where you are. Years of education, student teaching, and then making sure you've completed the requirements to earn the teaching credential necessary for your particular area – you've devoted thousands of days and tens of thousands of hours to earn the right to teach in California. Whether you have a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential for grade school, one or more Single Subject Teaching Credentials necessary to teach in high school, or an Education Specialist Teaching Credential that allows you to teach special education students, your credential from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) is the gateway to your career and your livelihood.
The CTC is responsible not only for issuing teacher credentials in California but also for investigating complaints filed against teachers and, where appropriate, disciplining educators who are found to have committed misconduct. The CTC's Committee of Credentials has a specific process that it follows for investigating misconduct claims. Once it confirms that a complaint submitted against a teacher appears to have some merit, it will send the teacher a Letter of Inquiry, which is what officially begins the investigation and disciplinary process involving that teacher. If you are notified by the CTC that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you, you need to pay close attention to the situation and take it very seriously.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is ready to help you if you have received a Letter of Inquiry from the CTC. The sooner you contact one of our experienced professional license defense attorneys, the better your chances are of being able to effectively protect your rights during the investigation process and resolve the inquiry as quickly and effectively as possible. We understand how CTC investigations and disciplinary proceedings work, and we can help take some of the uncertainty, burden, and worry off of your shoulders as you go through what can be a difficult and stressful time.
Ways the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Can Discipline Teachers
The CTC has a number of options when it comes to disciplining a teacher where a misconduct allegation is substantiated. These are called “adverse actions,” and include:
- Private admonition. This is a written warning to the teacher that is also sent to the teacher's school but is otherwise kept confidential and does not appear on the teacher's public record. After three years, all records of private admonitions must be deleted by the CTC and by the teacher's employer.
- Public reproval. This is a public warning issued to the teacher. It describes the conduct that the CTC considers inappropriate for a teaching credential holder, warns that further misconduct could result in more severe sanctions, and is noted on the teacher's public record.
- Suspension. A teacher's credential or credentials may be suspended for a specified period of time. This appears on the teacher's public record, and during the suspension period, the teacher may not work in a position that requires a CTC teaching credential.
- Revocation. A teacher's credential or credentials may be revoked entirely. This will also appear on the teacher's public record and will prevent the teacher from working in a position that requires a CTC teaching credential. A teacher whose credential has been revoked may apply to the CTC to have it reinstated, but not until one year has passed since the revocation.
The CTC can also take action against teachers who are applying for teaching credentials. Where the teacher's background check shows that the teacher has a criminal record or a history of other disqualifying misconduct, the CTC can deny the application.
What Standards Does California Expect Teachers to Uphold?
California has specific conduct requirements for teachers holding a teaching certificate. These include:
- A teacher may not “abandon professional employment without good cause.”
- Teachers may not use confidential information about students or other professionals for the teacher's “own private gain or advantage.”
- The teacher may not use their employer's facilities, equipment, or supplies for their own “private gain or advantage” without the employer's permission.
- Teachers can't accept extra compensation for doing their jobs except for what their employer pays them; they may also not accept gifts, except for “gifts or tokens of minimal value” that are given “in recognition or appreciation of service.”
- Teachers shall not teach in an area where they are not credentialed by the CTC or assign a subordinate to do so, except in extraordinary situations and with the approval of their county superintendent of schools.
- A teacher may not teach when their “mental or intellectual facilities” are impaired for any reason, including because of their “use of alcohol or any controlled substance.”
- A teacher is prohibited from harassing or retaliating against any subordinate or “certified person” who files a misconduct report about the teacher.
- Teachers may not discriminate in the course of their employment against anyone based on “race, color, creed, gender, national origin, handicapping condition or sexual orientation.”
- Teachers must report suspected child abuse “as soon as practically possible” but in any case “within 36 hours” after becoming aware of the suspected abuse.
- Teachers who have been convicted of certain crimes, including sex offenses, narcotics offenses, and violent or serious felonies, may have their credentials revoked immediately.
Grounds for Teacher Discipline in California
Teachers may be disciplined for a variety of reasons by the CTC. Disciplinary proceedings may happen if there is a violation of any one of the conduct requirements listed above or any of the following types of behavior are alleged:
- Substance abuse. Teachers who work while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or prescription or non-prescription drugs may be disciplined for doing so. This can happen even when a teacher has an unexpected reaction to a prescribed medication that causes them to behave in a way that may lead others to believe the teacher is intoxicated.
- Abusing students. This may include physical or mental abuse of students, as well as situations where the teacher and the student have an inappropriate intimate encounter or relationship.
- Falsifying records. Failing to properly record student progress or agreeing to alter student records without good reason – whether in return for compensation or otherwise – can result in the teacher being disciplined.
- Disclosing confidential information. When a teacher discloses information about a student that is supposed to remain confidential to someone who isn't entitled to have that information, the teacher can be disciplined even if the teacher does not disclose the information for personal gain.
Not every adverse situation will result in CTC disciplinary proceedings. Personality conflicts, for example, usually don't rise to the level of a matter that the CTC will investigate. The CTC will examine an incoming complaint against a teacher to determine whether or not it is the type of complaint that the CTC has the authority to investigate for disciplinary purposes.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You From Sanctions in California
Your first response if you receive a Letter of Investigation from the CTC is that “this is all just a big misunderstanding,” and “I'm sure once I explain to them what really happened this will all go away.”
It's a natural reaction, but one that can lead to more problems. The CTC has an obligation to investigate misconduct claims, and your talking with them about the allegations against you is not likely to lead to them dropping the matter. They may also want to speak with others involved in the situation, including the person making the allegation, and may also review school records that relate to the misconduct allegation. In addition, if you speak with a CTC official or investigator, it could result in you inadvertently disclosing information that may work against your case.
This is why it can be so important to be working with an experienced professional license defense attorney as soon as you receive the Letter of Investigation. The attorneys who make up the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team understand how these kinds of investigations work, and they can help make sure that any information you want to share with the CTC is information that will help your case. They can also investigate the situation on your behalf and may be able to uncover even more information that you can use to defend yourself and, in some cases, to help the CTC conclude that there is no basis to continue with the disciplinary process against you.
The Process for Disciplining Teachers in California
The CTC has a specific set of procedures it follows after it receives a misconduct complaint about a credentialed teacher. It includes the following steps:
- Initial review. This is to determine whether the complaint is about the kinds of misconduct that the CTC regulates. The CTC receives hundreds of misconduct complaints each month, but many of these do not relate to the types of misconduct that the CTC has the authority to investigate.
- Preliminary investigation. Where the complaint is of the type the CTC handles, it will collect documents relevant to the alleged misconduct, including any relevant ones from courts or law enforcement.
- Letter of inquiry. Where the preliminary investigation substantiates the misconduct claim, the CTC will send the teacher a Letter of Inquiry. This formally begins the disciplinary process against you. The Letter of Inquiry will list the reasons for the investigation and will typically ask you to provide information about the matter to the CTC's Committee on Credentials (COC). You normally have 30 days to respond to the Letter of Inquiry, and it's important that you make sure you don't miss this deadline.
- Review of information by the COC. The COC will review the information you submitted in response to the Letter of Inquiry, as well as other information that has been gathered leading up to the issuance of the Letter of Inquiry. It may end the misconduct proceeding at this point, or if it does not, it will proceed to the next stage.
- Formal review by the COC. This is somewhat like a hearing, but in many ways, it may seem like an interview session. You're allowed to have counsel present (if you notify the COC in advance). The COC panel will ask you questions at the Formal Review session, and you may bring witnesses to speak on your own behalf if you notify the COC in advance. There will be a chance for you to make a short opening and closing statement, and your counsel may make the closing statement on your behalf.
- Decision. After the Formal Review session, the COC may close the matter, or it may recommend that the CTC take a certain type of “adverse action” against you. You can accept this adverse action or appeal it. Note that if the COC closes the matter, the person who filed the complaint against you may ask the COC to reconsider it.
- Administrative hearing. If the COC recommends an adverse action against you, you can request that there be an administrative hearing on the recommendation. If you don't, the COC may adopt the recommendation with no hearing. If you do request one, you will have an opportunity to present your case to the CTC in a private administrative hearing, at which the complainant may also be present, as well as your counsel and any witnesses.
- Appeal. The decision of the CTC may itself be appealed to the full Commission.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing?
Unless you receive a private admonition or the complaint against you is dismissed, all adverse actions of the CTC will be part of your public record and may be reviewed by the public and by employers by using the CTC's educator search tool. If your certificate is suspended or revoked, you will not be able to work in a position that requires a certificate until the suspension is lifted or you are reinstated.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
The skilled attorneys that are part of the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have years of experience helping certified educators all over California protect their certifications in situations where misconduct claims have been filed against them. No matter where you live or work in California: Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, or anywhere else in the state, our lawyers can help you protect your rights in a teaching certificate discipline investigation.
We understand the laws, rules, processes, and procedures that apply in CTC investigations and formal reviews, and are ready to help you and take much of the stress and burden off of you in what can be a many months-long process. If you've received a Letter of Investigation from the CTC, don't delay – the clock is ticking, and the sooner you call the trained professionals at the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team, the sooner you can have one of our experienced attorneys working on your behalf to protect your reputation, your certification, and your livelihood.
Call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or set up a confidential consultation with us using our online form. We know this is a difficult situation for you, and we're here to listen and to help!