Teaching is among the most important professions in our society. Ultimately, every single person in the US owes their education to teachers. Unfortunately, you don't always get the respect you deserve. Students question your authority; parents question your curriculum choices; administrators question your teaching methods; and school board members question your personal behavior. Far too much of your career is spent defending yourself.
Unfortunately, defending yourself can sometimes turn into defending your teaching license—your credentials and the basis of your livelihood.
You deserve better treatment. The Lento Law Firm wants to make sure you get better treatment. If someone has questioned your license, if you're being forced to defend it, the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is here to help. We know the law, especially as it applies to education. We also know the Hawaii licensing system and how it works. Most important, though, we believe in what you do. We've helped hundreds of clients defend their professional licenses, and we're committed to helping you do the same. Call us today at 888-535-3686, or contact us online.
Just What Can Put Your Teaching License at Risk?
Obviously, there are legitimate reasons to question a teacher's fitness. There are situations in which a teacher deserves to be sanctioned and even dismissed. Hawaii law exists to protect students and school districts, and the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board (HTSB) exists to enforce those laws. Potential violations, as delineated in the HTSB manual, include
- A felony conviction
- A misdemeanor conviction for any crime that endangers a student or minor
- Conviction for any crime against children
- Sexual contact with a minor
- Possession, production, or distribution of illegal images of minors
- Committing a crime on school grounds while fulfilling duties as a teacher
- Practicing the profession while possessing or under the influence of drugs
- Violation of the HTSB Code of Ethics
- Teaching with a fraudulent license
- Submitting false information to obtain a license
- Having a license revoked in another jurisdiction
- Violation of any conditions of a license
- Failure to pay required licensing fees
Here's the thing, though: Anyone can be accused of violating HTSB policy. It doesn't matter how impeccable your teaching qualifications might be. It doesn't matter that you have a spotless record. Mistakes happen; misunderstandings happen; false accusations happen. It only takes one allegation from a student, a parent, or an administrator to trigger an investigation, and once an investigation gets started, you can't be certain of the outcome.
Keep in mind as well that even if you have made a mistake, it doesn't necessarily mean you deserve to lose your license. In the current social and political climate, state education boards operate in a constant state of fear that the government or the public will question their authority. No board can afford to appear soft on violations. As a result, they tend to be overly harsh in assigning sanctions. You could be facing the loss of your license when a warning or probation might be more appropriate.
Whether you need to defend your innocence or you're looking to negotiate a fair settlement, the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm has your best interests at heart. Their number one priority is to ensure you're treated fairly, your rights are respected, and that you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
The Disciplinary Process for Teachers in Hawaii
The good news is that you can't lose your license just because someone doesn't like what you do in the classroom. Even if you are accused of violating Hawaiian law, you have the right to defend yourself. The HTSB must provide you with due process, and there are a number of protections in place to help you through that process.
In general, here's what you can expect if your license is called into question.
- First, someone lodges a complaint about your behavior.
- The Hawaii Teacher Standards Board conducts an investigation into this complaint.
- If the Board decides to move forward with the complaint, it then holds a hearing.
- The Board issues its decision and assigns sanctions as necessary.
One of the many complexities of the Hawaii licensing system is that complaints can literally come from anywhere.
- A student
- A parent
- A colleague
- A supervisor
- School support staff
- District administrators
- Your local school board
In addition, many teachers' credentials have been questioned in recent years by politicians and political groups with a particular ideological stance to promote.
However, before it acts on a complaint, the HTSB must first determine that the complaint is both credible and actionable. You cannot be sanctioned simply because a parent doesn't like the grade you've given their child. In fact, it's sometimes the case that the Lento Law Firm can intervene in a case before any investigation takes place by reminding the HTSB what is and isn't under its jurisdiction.
Should the Board decide to proceed with a case, it then initiates an investigation. Board members may conduct this investigation themselves. However, they may also ask the state attorney general's office or another state agency to conduct it.
If you are under investigation, the Board provides you with a written Notice of the Charges. This document should detail specifics of the allegation and apprise you of all your due process rights, including the right to presumption of innocence, the right to review all evidence, and the right to prior notification of all meetings and proceedings. Among the most important of your rights, you have the right to legal representation by an attorney. That means someone from the Lento Law Firm can be at your side from the moment a complaint is filed until your final appeal is exhausted.
Next, investigators will give you a chance to respond to the charges, either in writing or in person. Even at this early point in the case, it is crucial you have legal representation. You may know that you are innocent and trust in the system to exonerate you. However, investigators only know what the evidence tells them, and they can sometimes view perfectly innocent statements and actions in the most negative possible light. You need someone from the Lento Law Firm to make sure you don't make any serious missteps in the beginning that might prejudice your case.
The Board could decide to dismiss your case after the investigation. It could also decide to move forward with a formal hearing. Again, in Hawaii, these hearings are typically conducted by the state's attorney general or a representative from their office.
The hearing offers the HTSB an opportunity to make its full case against you. However, it's also your chance to lay out the case for your innocence.
In many ways, a teacher licensing hearing resembles a criminal trial. For example, as part of the process, you make opening and closing statements. You have the right to submit evidence and to question evidence against you. You may call witnesses to testify. You may also cross-examine any witnesses against you. In the end, the Board deliberates and renders a final decision as to your guilt or innocence. If it finds you responsible for a violation, it also has the authority to determine the appropriate penalty you should face. And, importantly, you may be represented by an attorney throughout the entire proceedings.
Keep in mind, however, that a hearing isn't a criminal trial. For instance, the Board doesn't have to be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to find you responsible. In fact, in Hawaii, the Board employs a far less strict legal standard known as “preponderance of the evidence.” According to this standard, you're guilty if more than half the members are convinced you violated state policy.
In short, you need an attorney to represent you at your hearing—after all, the HTSB will have its own attorney—but you need a very particular kind of attorney. You need one who is not just an experienced litigator but who understands the particular elements of a license hearing. The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is well-versed in all HTSB policies and can guide you through the process from start to finish.
Should the Board decide you are responsible for an offense, it then determines an appropriate sanction. According to Hawaii state law, that can include
- Revocation of license for a minimum of five years
- Suspension of license for no more than five years
- Specific conditions on the license for a specified period
- Monetary penalties
Again, it's important to remember that state education boards can and do sometimes assign penalties that are disproportionate to the nature of the offense. Even if you should lose your case, the Lento Law Firm can play an important role in negotiating a fair sanction.
Why You Need a Teaching License Defense Team
You should have a clear sense by this point of exactly why you need an attorney any time your license is under threat. To review, though:
- The HTSB is not on your side. While the Board does a great deal in its day-to-day operations to promote teacher interests in the state of Hawaii, if you stand accused of violating policy, the Board immediately becomes your adversary. You need someone in your corner, protecting your rights.
- A teacher licensing case can be a complicated affair. It's not just that you need someone to represent you at the hearing. It's easy to make mistakes during the investigative portion of a case as well. Having an attorney at your side minimizes your risk and ensures that you are treated fairly.
- Everything is at stake. Your license is your livelihood. Without it, you have to choose an entirely different career path. You simply can't afford to take any chances. You need the best you can find.
The best help isn't just any lawyer. You may be tempted to contact a local or family attorney, and they may even tell you that they can handle your case. The fact is, though, that professional licensing is a very specific area of the law. Not every attorney has studied it; not every attorney has experience defending this kind of case. The best help is an attorney who not only understands how to defend clients, but who also knows exactly how licensing boards operate.
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm are dedicated to helping professionals, including teachers, defend themselves from all threats to their licenses. They're defense attorneys, but they're specifically focused on licensing cases. They know how the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board operates. They know what due process rights you're afforded under state law, and how to use those rights to your best advantage.
Other Licensure Concerns
While a threat to your teaching license is the most serious licensing concern you're ever likely to face, you should know that the Lento Law Firm handles many other issues related to licensing.
Simply applying for or renewing your license can be a complex process, for instance. That's especially true if you're moving to Hawaii from another state or plan to move elsewhere from Hawaii. Hawaii participates in a reciprocal teacher licensing agreement with all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. However, you may be asked to provide additional credentials if you're moving from one state to another. The Lento Law Firm can help you gather and organize materials and make sure your application is complete. They can also help you respond to any questions that might arise over your background or your record in the classroom.
What Can The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm Do For You?
A license defense can be a scary proposition. You may have to undergo an investigation; there could be a hearing. You're not simply facing a set of school board policies—HTSB policy is written into state law. You're a teacher, a really good one, but you're not an attorney, and a situation like that definitely calls for one.
The Lento Law Firm understands your situation. They've helped hundreds of professionals deal with similar situations. They know the law, and they know the Hawaii state licensing system. They're also committed to making the entire process as straightforward as possible and to ensuring you get the justice you deserve.