Case Studies: Child Development Professionals

Teacher Avoids Loss of Certification over Allegations of Student Physical Abuse

The office of professional conduct of a Central Midwest state board of education notified a physical education teacher at an urban high school of disciplinary proceedings. The notice threatened to revoke the teacher's certification and demanded that the teacher appear for a formal hearing one month away. The teacher understood the notice to do with an incident in which the teacher had unintentionally injured a physical education student in the teacher's gym class. The student had several times engaged in distracting horseplay while the teacher was attempting to instruct the class. When the student appeared to attempt to push another student from the gym risers, the teacher restrained the student in a way that allegedly injured the student's neck and shoulder. The student's parents had maintained in complaints to the school principal and district officials that the teacher had illegally used corporal punishment against the student. When the principal and district officials disagreed, the parents lodged the complaint with the state board. The teacher then retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. The Team prepared to show the Board's hearing panel that the client teacher had only engaged in a lawful safety restraint, not unlawful corporal punishment. Student testimony presented a fact issue at the hearing that the hearing panel resolved in the teacher's favor, consistent with the Team's arguments. The Board dismissed the complaint, and the teacher retained certification and employment.

Daycare Provider Retains License After Allegations of Failure to Report Abuse

A Southwest state's department of children's services served a complaint on a licensed daycare provider. The complaint alleged that the provider had failed to report suspected child abuse as state law required. The allegations related to the conviction of a parent on criminal child abuse charges. The daycare provider had cared for the abused child during a period when the abuse had been occurring. The criminal abuse conviction had produced a public outcry that had spurred state licensing officials to pursue the daycare provider on license disciplinary charges. The local prosecutor had declined to criminally charge the daycare provider for failure to report, although the state statute authorized such charges. The daycare provider retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend the license proceedings and preserve or restore the provider's reputation, even though the provider had closed the daycare program after the criminal charges. The Defense Team presented the provider's testimony, the testimony of other parents who had children at the daycare, and the testimony of medical witnesses to the effect that signs of abuse were not visible. The victim child's parents, including the convicted abuser, did not testify. On the basis of the Team's presentation and advocacy, the hearing panel found that the daycare provider had not violated licensing standards. The daycare provider retained the license for potential future use. The Defense Team helped the daycare provider prepare and share a public communication of the positive results tending to reinforce the provider's restored good reputation.

K-12 Principal Avoids Discipline and Employment Discharge over Alleged Conflicts of Interest

The department of education for a large Northeast state notified a kindergarten through grade twelve school principal of disciplinary charges. The charges alleged that the school principal had exercised undue influence over hiring and purchasing decisions, tending to favor family members and friends in conflicts of interest. The charges arose after a small number of parents got a school board member's attention. When the school board declined to investigate, the board member and parents complained to state officials who brought the charges. The charges had primarily to do with construction contracts and part-time staff hiring at the school. The school had, in fact, retained contractors who were the principal's cousins and had hired the principal's spouse and daughter for part-time jobs without benefits. When the Board declined to retain counsel for the principal to defend the department of education proceeding, the principal retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. The Team gathered and presented to the department's disciplinary officials evidence that other building principals in the district and other districts had also hired contractors and part-time staff with family connections. The Team further documented the fair market value of the hires and that other school staff and administrators had approved the hires independent of the principal's influence. The Team further shared that information with the district board, including the member who had complained to state officials. The state officials dismissed the complaint with the complaining board member's agreement.

Elementary Instructor Retains Certification After Domestic Abuse Allegations

The teacher certification board for a Southern state served a notice of discipline against a fourth-grade teacher. The notice alleged that the teacher represented a safety threat to children and staff at the school. The notice cited domestic abuse allegations appearing in family court papers that the teacher's separated spouse had filed. The child protective services workers reviewing the family court file had notified the teacher certification board as state law required. When the teacher informed the elementary school principal of the disciplinary charges, the principal immediately suspended the teacher. The teacher then retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. Working with the separated spouse's counsel, the Defense Team negotiated a clarifying statement from the spouse indicating that the allegations had only to do with mental distress from disagreements over separation issues, including child custody. The Defense Team presented that documentation and the teacher's own attestation at an informal resolution conference. The disciplinary official recommended holding the license discipline matter in abeyance pending further developments in the family court matter. When the disciplinary official declined to recommend any interim suspension or conditions, the school principal reinstated the teacher. The teacher certification board subsequently dismissed the disciplinary charges after the teacher and spouse reconciled. The Defense Team's strategy for a cooling-off period enabled the teacher to resume employment, reconcile, and clear the teacher's record of any pending charges.

Secondary Education Instructor Retains Certification Despite Weapons Charges

The department of education for a Mid-Central state issued disciplinary charges against a high school teacher. The disciplinary charges alleged that the teacher's criminal arrest on weapons charges warranted emergency suspension of teacher duties and certification. The department's notice indicated that the teacher could take an emergency appeal from the emergency suspension. The district promptly suspended the teacher. The teacher then retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to appeal the certification and employment suspensions and gain reinstatement. The Defense Team documented from police records and witness statements obtained by a private investigator that the weapons arrest had to do with the teacher's inadvertent transport of a handgun the teacher intended only to carry on big-game hunts, in keeping with hunting safety protocols. The teacher had mistakenly left the handgun in a bag that the teacher had on a vehicle front seat when spotted in a routine traffic stop. While probable cause existed for the arrest and charges, the alleged strict-liability weapons crime did not involve malicious intent or even safety risk. The Defense Team presented this evidence in the department's emergency appeal hearing, resulting in the reinstatement of the teacher's certification. The Team presented the same evidence to the district, which reinstated the teacher's employment. The state department of education subsequently dismissed the disciplinary charges after the criminal case was resolved by alternative disposition. The strategy of regaining interim certification and employment succeeded in preserving the teacher's reputation, standing, and career.


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