It takes a special kind of person to become a grade school teacher. The hours are long, the pay is less than stellar, and the job itself is often thankless--but you love teaching kids, nonetheless. And that's why you've gone to the trouble to get a quality education, earn your teaching credentials, and obtain your K-12 instructional certification. The work itself is its own reward.
But all that work, all you've done to build your career as a K-12 teacher, could be thrown into jeopardy over a single allegation of wrongdoing. With all the incidents of teacher misconduct in the news lately, state licensing boards are taking a harder look at the instructors in their respective states and are quicker to initiate disciplinary action over misconduct allegations. The State of New Jersey alone has revoked or suspended the licenses of hundreds of teachers just over the past several years.
If you are a K-12 instructor facing disciplinary action from your state licensing board, it is important to understand the process and what you can do to protect your livelihood. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced attorney who has helped many teachers protect their licenses in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. This FAQ will discuss some of the most common reasons why teachers lose their license/credentials, the disciplinary process, and how a professional license defense attorney can help.
What Agency Processes Allegations Against Me as a Teacher?
The licensing board that issued your teaching credentials is the same body that will investigate allegations of misconduct and impose discipline. In New Jersey, it's the State Board of Examiners; in Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Education; and in New York, it's the Office of Teaching Initiatives.
What Allegations Could Cause Me To Lose My License and Certification To Teach?
There are a variety of allegations that, if substantiated, could cause you to lose your teaching credentials. Some of the most common include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual misconduct with students. One of the most common forms of teacher misconduct, this allegation includes both physical and non-physical forms of misconduct, including "sexting," sexual harassment, inappropriate comments, etc.
- Drug and alcohol offenses. Includes possession, sale, or distribution of alcohol/drugs, giving alcohol to minors, etc.
- Physical and/or verbal abuse of students.
- Cheating. E.g., falsifying student records or grade inflation
- Criminal convictions. Committing a crime may disqualify you from teaching.
What Does the Disciplinary Process Look Like?
Each state licensing board has its own disciplinary procedures in place. However, when someone makes a complaint, the most frequently followed course of action is as follows:
- Investigation. The board will generally begin by examining the complaint to see if it has any validity and whether there is evidence to support it. You may be asked to respond in writing, provide documentation, etc., and the board may subpoena documents and interview witnesses.
- Consent decree. In some states, the licensing board may offer to have you sign a consent decree, especially if the evidence against you is substantial. The consent decree is an admission of guilt and agreement to submit to disciplinary action (often with a pathway to restoration in place) in return for avoiding a formal hearing.
- Hearings. You may be summoned to one or more hearings (informal and formal) to discuss the complaint against you and give your side of the story. The hearing takes place either before the board itself or in front of an Administrative Law Judge.
- Board action. The board makes a determination as to your guilt/innocence and makes a ruling on what disciplinary action to impose.
Bear in mind that at any in the disciplinary process, the board may decide either to throw out the complaint for lack of evidence or agree to reduced penalties that allow you to keep your K-12 instructor license and certification. A skilled professional license defense attorney can work on your behalf to obtain a more favorable outcome.
Are There Other Disciplinary Actions Other Than Revoking My License To Teach?
Yes. While the most severe disciplinary action is license revocation, there are lesser penalties that may be imposed. These can include:
- Temporary suspension
- Conditional agreements (e.g., attending mandatory treatment in return for keeping your license)
- Formal reprimand
It's important to note that even one of these lesser penalties could have a detrimental effect on your career. Most disciplinary actions by the licensing board are a matter of public record, which means teachers, students, and school officials can look up your license and see if there are any disciplinary records. It's always best to work with a professional license attorney to reduce the risk of disciplinary action.
How Can an Attorney Help Protect My Career as a K-12 Instructor if I'm Accused of Wrongdoing?
A license defense attorney can significantly lower the possibility that your license will be revoked as a result of a complaint. A good attorney can:
- Act as your official legal representative in all interactions and correspondence with the state licensing board--up to and including the formal hearing
- Provide you with clear insights into the nature of the complaint and any evidence against you so that you know what to anticipate and how to prepare
- Gather evidence and witnesses for your defense
- Negotiate throughout the process for the best possible outcome for your case, including dismissal of the complaint or coming to an agreement on lesser penalties
- Help get your teaching credentials restored in certain instances
As a licensed and certified K-12 instructor, your teaching career hinges on your credentials. If you are notified that someone has filed a complaint against you or that your teacher license is being investigated, being proactive by hiring an attorney could very well save your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York whose licenses are in jeopardy. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to see how we can help.