The state of Idaho takes teacher certification seriously. The Idaho Department of Education website talks about “high standards for all school personnel,” about “educational excellence” and “highly effective instruction.” That's as it should be. As a teacher, your job is nothing less than to mold young minds into productive, successful members of society. That's no small responsibility.
If you've been teaching for more than a minute, though, you know that the system isn't always fair in terms of how it enforces policies. Mistakes happen to the best of us. Misunderstandings happen. And yes, even false accusations sometimes happen. You shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you'll lose your license just because your district needs a scapegoat or the state needs to make an example of someone. You deserve fair treatment.
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is dedicated to making sure you get that fair treatment. They've studied federal and state law as it relates to education; they're familiar with the Idaho Department of Education's rules and procedures; and they're ready to put what they know to work to protect you. If your license is threatened, contact us today at 888-535-3686 or send us a message online.
Just What Can Put Your Teaching License at Risk?
As an Idaho educator, it's important you know exactly what your state expects of you. Obviously, that can help you avoid problems in the first place. Knowing the rules, is also essential any time you're facing a misconduct charge. You can't hope to defend yourself if you don't understand exactly what you've been accused of doing.
Idaho teachers are subject to a set of ten professional standards.
- Professional Conduct: Any unethical conduct, including convictions for certain felony and misdemeanor offenses, is grounds for disciplinary action.
- Educator/ Student Relationship: All relationships with students must be professional, inside and outside of the classroom.
- Alcohol and Drug Use or Possession: This includes alcohol use on school grounds and drug use or possession anywhere.
- Professional Integrity: Involves issues of honesty and addresses all types of fraud and falsification.
- Funds and Property: Concerns issues such as the misuse of funds, the co-mingling of school funds in a personal account, and the misuse of school computers to view pornography.
- Compensation: Bars certain types of gifts, especially those that raise potential conflicts of interest.
- Confidentiality: Prohibits release of any information about any student to any unauthorized individual.
- Breach of Contract: Includes the abandonment of a position but also refusal to perform services required by contract.
- Duty to Report: Requires educators to report any knowledge they may have related to student child abuse or suicidal tendencies, or any colleague violation of the Code of Ethics.
- Professionalism: A general catch-all category that mentions misconduct such as harassment and the use of institutional privileges to promote a political candidate.
In addition, state law notes that a teacher may be disciplined for simple “incompentency.” That's the type of allegation anyone can raise at any time.
No one would argue that teachers shouldn't be held to high standards. Neither would anyone argue, though, that an innocent teacher should be sanctioned or that a teacher who made a mistake should be unfairly disciplined. Misunderstandings do happen. Students, parents, and even colleagues sometimes make false allegations. And no one is immune. It doesn't matter how distinguished your background is or how spotless your record. It only takes one allegation to initiate an Idaho Department of Education investigation, and once an investigation begins, you can never be certain how it will end. When it does, you deserve the best legal representation available.
In fact, even if you have made a mistake, you still want a knowledgeable, experienced legal team at your side. Just because you've violated state policy doesn't mean you necessarily deserve a harsh penalty like suspension or revocation of your teaching certification. We live in a social and political climate where state education departments are anxious to appear tough on bad teachers. Sometimes, they can be overly tough.
If you've been accused of violating Idaho's professional standards, the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm is here to help. We're adept at negotiating fair settlements, but we're also fierce when it comes to defending our clients' innocence.
The Disciplinary Process for Teachers in Idaho
Any allegation of misconduct can be scary. No teacher ever wants to have their classroom conduct called into question. You should know, though, that you can't simply be disciplined by your school board or the Idaho Department of Education without being given due process. You are entitled to a thorough investigation. You are entitled to a hearing. And you have a number of important rights designed to help protect you and ensure justice is done.
Here's a brief overview of what you can expect, followed by a more in-depth description of each step in the process.
- Cases typically begin when someone lodges a complaint against you.
- The Office of Certification and Professional Standards conducts a preliminary investigation into the complaint.
- If the Office of Certification and Professional Standards believes the complaint has merit, it then holds a hearing into the matter.
- If the hearing determines that you are responsible for an offense, the Department of Education then assigns an appropriate penalty.
A complaint can come from virtually anywhere. It might be made, for instance, by
- A student
- A parent
- A colleague
- A supervisor
- School support staff
- District administrators
- Your local school board
The Department of Education won't act on a complaint unless it determines that it is both credible and actionable. A grade dispute, for example, wouldn't ordinarily fall under the Department's jurisdiction.
What this means is that in the earliest stages of a case, before the Office of Certification and Professional Standards has acted, it's possible to argue that a particular complaint doesn't warrant Department of Education involvement. The Lento Law Firm may be able to intervene and convince decision-makers to dismiss a complaint before it goes any further.
If the Office of Certification and Professional Standards decides to move forward with the case, it will supply you with an official Notice of the Charges. This document should include details about the nature of the allegation, details that can be essential in building your case. In addition, it should apprise you of your due process rights, such as the right to review all evidence in the case, the right to notification of all meetings and proceedings, and the right to a presumption of innocence.
Investigators will gather any physical evidence related to the case and interview witnesses. You'll also have a chance to respond to the charges directly, either in person or in writing.
Again, it is crucial that you have the Lento Law Firm at your side from the moment you receive Notice of the Charges, if not before. You may assume that because you're innocent you have nothing to fear from an investigation. The reality is, you can't count on investigators to exonerate you. Often, they begin their investigation with a preconception that you are guilty, and they tend to view every piece of evidence in the most negative possible light. Perfectly innocent aspects of your background might be used to build the case against you, and you certainly don't want to say or do anything during the investigative phase that might add fuel to the fire.
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help you draft documents, accompany you to any meetings, and generally make sure that investigators treat you fairly throughout the process. They can also respond to questions on your behalf, helping you avoid making any missteps that wind up costing you later.
If investigators decide that the complaint against you has merit, the case then moves into a hearing phase. Of course, the hearing gives the Office of Certification and Professional Standards an opportunity to make its case against you. However, it's just as much a chance for you to defend your own innocence.
Certification hearings resemble criminal trials, at least on the surface. That is, both sides get to make opening and closing statements. Both sides offer up evidence and call witnesses. Both get to cross-examine witnesses for the other side. Just as in a court case, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. And just as in a court case, a judge—in this case, a panel of judges—determines whether or not you are responsible for violating state policy. You can understand, then, why it might be so important to have experienced legal representation. In fact, the Department of Education has its own counsel during these hearings, and in many cases it calls on the Attorney General's office for support. You don't want to go into a situation like that without your own team.
It is equally important to remember that a certification hearing is not a criminal trial. For example, the Department of Education doesn't have to find you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to punish you. Instead, it applies a much less strict legal standard known as “preponderance of the evidence.” If just over half of the decision-makers on the panel are convinced that you committed an offense, they are required to find you guilty. As a result, it's important you choose a Professional License Defense Team who is well-versed in Department of Education procedure, who knows how certification hearings in Idaho work, and who has experience specifically representing teachers in certification cases. In short, you need the Lento Law Firm.
Finally, should the Department of Education decide you are responsible for an offense, it must then determine an appropriate punishment. Typical punishments in such cases can include
- Monetary penalties
- Conditions placed on your certification for a specified period of time
- Suspension of your certification
- Revocation of your certification
State education departments can and do sometimes assign penalties that are simply disproportionate to the nature of the offense. As a result, if you've lost your hearing—or if you should decide to accept responsibility without a hearing—it's still important to have the Professional License Defense team at the Lento Law Firm help you negotiate a fair sanction.
Why You Need a Teaching License Defense Team
It should be clear at this point why you need a qualified legal team to help you defend yourself in these cases. For the sake of review, though:
- The Idaho Department of Education is not on your side when your credentials are being questioned. You may be used to seeing the department as an advocate for teachers. Certainly, it offers training, and it works to provide positive PR for the teaching community generally. Once you've been accused of misconduct, however, the department becomes your adversary. You need someone in your corner, looking out for your interests.
- Certification cases are complicated. You've been accused of violating Department of Education policy, but never forget that those policies are encoded in state law. Statutes can be difficult to interpret. Investigation and hearing rules and procedures can be complex. You need someone on your side who knows the Idaho system and who can guide you through it.
- Finally, and most importantly, there's simply too much at stake to try and handle a certification defense by yourself. Your teaching certificate isn't just a piece of paper. It allows you to do your job. Without it, you have no choice but to find an entirely new career path. You can't afford to take any chances.
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm cares about you and your career. We believe in education and the important job that teachers do. More than that we're dedicated to helping professionals of all types defend themselves and preserve their credentials.
Other Teacher Certification Concerns
A threat to your certification is probably the most stressful situation you're ever likely to face as a teacher. It's certainly not the only legal issue educators face, though. The Team at the Lento Law Firm is familiar with the Idaho Department of Education, and qualified to help with a wide range of issues related to the field of education.
For instance, just applying for or renewing your license can be a complex undertaking. You have to be able to document your educational background and training. You're subject to a criminal background check. Anything in your past could raise questions about your fitness to teach. The Lento Law Firm can work with you to gather and assemble application materials. Our team can also help you respond to any questions you might face as you go through the process. You may be going through Idaho's alternative certification process, or transferring your certification from Idaho to another state. The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can make all of these experiences easier for you.
What Can Joseph D. Lento and His Team Do For You?
A certification defense can be a scary proposition. You may have to undergo an investigation; there could be a hearing; the Department of Education may interview your supervisors, your colleagues, even your students.
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm understand your situation. They've helped hundreds of professionals deal with similar situations. They know the law, and they know the Idaho state certification system. They're also committed to making the entire process as straightforward as possible and to ensuring you get the justice you deserve.