“Teacher” is among the noblest professions there is. Your job is no less than shaping young minds to be productive members of society. Without you, social structures, government, and the economy all collapse. That's an incredible responsibility, and you take it seriously. You went through rigorous training to earn your teaching certificate. You put in the hours, not only in the classroom but at home—making lesson plans, grading papers, and responding to a wide range of student issues. You attend in-services and faculty meetings and spend your summers at conferences and seminars.
Let's face it, though: you don't get anything like the respect you deserve for all the work you do. Everyone questions your decisions: students, parents, administrators, and other teachers. Anyone can lodge a complaint against you. Under pressure from politicians and the general public, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is quick to initiate investigations and can be severe in assigning punishments.
Who's on your side? Who will stand up and advocate on your behalf?
The Lento Law Firm.
The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are trained in educational law. They know the Illinois certification system. Most important of all, though, they're committed to protecting teachers.
Illinois Education Policy
Let's start with the basics: just what are your responsibilities as an educator, in a legal sense? Or, put another way, just what is it that can put your teaching certification in jeopardy.?
Illinois state law offers a complete list of grounds for license suspension and revocation.
- Evidence of immorality
- A health condition detrimental to the welfare of pupils
- Unprofessional conduct
- Neglect of a professional duty
- Willful failure to report an instance of child abuse
- Failure to pay back a student loan
Of course, no one would argue that teachers shouldn't be held to high standards. The citizens of Illinois have a right to educators who have their children's best interests at heart, who are well-trained, and who take their obligations seriously. That said, many of the rules listed above are so vague as to leave educators open to all types of complaints. What, for example, qualifies as “evidence of immorality”? How does a given district define “incompetency”?
The problem of poorly defined policies is only exacerbated by the fact that in our current social and political climate, state school boards are often pressured into conducting investigations that aren't necessary and assigning sanctions far out of proportion to the nature of the offenses.
The bottom line is that anyone can find themselves accused of one of these offenses. It doesn't matter how long you've been teaching or how stellar your record as an educator may be. Misunderstandings happen. Mistakes happen. And yes, unfortunately, you can be the victim of a false allegation.
But let's be absolutely clear. Even if you are guilty of violating state policy in some way, it doesn't mean you deserve to be drummed out of the field of education or even suspended. In their quest to convince the public they are doing their due diligence or their desire to make “examples” of incompetent teachers, school boards often tend to assign overly harsh punishments. You may be facing suspension or dismissal when additional training or even a reprimand might be more appropriate.
It doesn't matter, then, whether you're ready to admit to making a mistake or you need to prove your innocence; you need an attorney from the Lento Law Firm at your side any time you're facing a serious misconduct accusation. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are always prepared to fight on your behalf, whether that means representing you at a hearing or negotiating a fair sanction.
The Disciplinary Process for Teachers in Illinois
What does the disciplinary process look like for teachers in Illinois? How do you go about defending yourself if you wind up accused of misconduct?
The good news is that there is a clear system in place. Before the ISBE can impose a sanction, it must follow a very specific process, and as part of that process, you have a number of important rights. Here's a brief overview of the process, followed by a detailed look at each part.
- Cases begin when someone lodges a complaint against you.
- The State Superintendent of Schools investigates complaints.
- The Superintendent determines whether or not you are Responsible for (guilty of) an offense and, if necessary, assigns a sanction.
- You then have the right to defend yourself at a formal hearing before the State Certification Board.
One of the biggest problems with the teacher certification system in Illinois is that complaints can arise from virtually anywhere. That includes
- School administrators
- Support staff
- District administrators
- Community members
In fact, in our current political climate, teachers sometimes find themselves investigated as the result of a complaint from a politician or political group with an ideological motivation.
Keep in mind, though, that an allegation must be both credible and actionable to trigger a full investigation. Even before an investigation begins, it can often be useful to retain an attorney from the Lento Law Firm. Beyond responding to the complaint, they can pressure the Superintendent to dismiss spurious accusations.
Assuming the Superintendent does decide to proceed with a case, they next initiate an investigation. As part of this investigation, you should have the chance to respond to the charges and to give your side of the story, either in person or through written documents.
In addition, investigators collect any physical evidence and interview witnesses. In fact, the Superintendent has the authority under the law to issue subpoenas.
Many teachers don't go to the trouble of seeking representation during the investigative phase, believing they'll be exonerated by the evidence. However, this thinking fails to account for a fundamental truth about all investigations. While you know you are innocent, and you interpret all evidence in the case based on that knowledge, you can't expect investigators to see the evidence as you do. They don't know what you know; they're coming to the case blind, and they may very well take a perfectly innocent piece of information or a stray remark you make and give it the very worst possible interpretation.
From the very moment you are accused—and before, if possible—you need an attorney from the Lento Law Firm to help you answer questions and respond to the charges. They can speak on your behalf and ensure you don't say or do anything that might be misinterpreted. In general, they can make sure investigators treat you fairly and that you're afforded every due process right you're entitled to.
Ultimately, the Illinois Superintendent of Schools makes a ruling in the case. If they believe you've committed a violation, they then assign a penalty. Penalties can include
- Certification suspension for up to 1 year
- Certification suspension for up to 5 years
- Complete certification revocation
The Superintendent's ruling should be based on evidence uncovered in the investigation, but ultimately, it's the decision of a single individual. It's also important to keep in mind that this ruling isn't based on the legal standard you'd normally face in a criminal court case, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the Superintendent must apply a far less strict standard known as “preponderance of the evidence.” This standard actually requires them to find you guilty if they are more than 50 percent convinced you violated state policy.
Luckily, the Superintendent's decisions are not the final word in the case. State law requires that before they implement any sanction, the Superintendent must apprise you of your right to defend yourself at a hearing. Further, sanction implementation must be set aside pending the outcome of the hearing.
Hearings take place either before the education service region or, in the case of revocation, before the State Teacher Certification Board. At these hearings, you have the right to make opening and closing statements, to submit evidence, to call witnesses to testify, and to cross-examine any witnesses against you. Crucially, you also have the right to be represented in all these matters by an attorney from the Lento Law Firm.
Hearings resemble criminal trials, but it is important to keep in mind that there are a number of differences between the two types of proceedings. Rules of evidence, for example, tend to be far less restrictive in hearings. In addition, decision-makers in these hearings apply the same legal standard—a preponderance of the evidence—that the Superintendent applied in making their decision. Again, they do not have to find you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Why You Need a Professional License Defense Team
You are, of course, allowed to conduct your certification defense entirely on your own. The law gives you the right to an attorney, but in the case of a certification investigation, it isn't required to supply you with one. There are at least two strong reasons, though, why you need help from an attorney.
- First, a certification case can be extremely complex. Demonstrating your innocence isn't just a matter of telling your side of the story. You must offer evidence, and that evidence needs to be carefully organized for maximum impact. You may need to make subtle arguments, sometimes about the very nature of the law itself. Rules and procedures are often confusing, and missteps can harm your case. You need someone who understands the law and who knows how to use it to your advantage.
- Second, everything is on the line in a certification case. If the ISDE should decide to revoke your teaching certificate, it likely means the end of your career in education. You cannot afford to take a situation like that lightly. You need the best professional help you can get.
Not just any attorney will do, though. Teachers sometimes hire local or family attorneys to deal with certification issues. After all, these lawyers are located right downtown, on Main Street. You may have a prior relationship with them. They may have close ties to the community, including to school administrators and members of the school board.
The thing is, teacher certification defenses aren't like DUI or domestic violence defenses. Again, an ISBE hearing is not the same thing as a criminal court case. You need someone who is a tough litigator but also someone who has experience working in alternative judicial settings such as Board hearings. You want someone who works in the very particular area of education law. And, you want someone who knows the Illinois state licensing system. In short, you need someone from the Lento Law Firm.
The Lento Law Firm was founded to help professionals, and especially teachers, defend themselves and their certification. Lento Law Firm attorneys have to go through a rigid licensing process themselves. As a result, they understand both how hard that process can be and how high the stakes are any time your credentials are called into question. They've studied state and federal law, especially as it applies to education. They know the issues that tend to come up in certification cases, and they know how the Illinois Department of Education operates. You won't find anyone more capable of handling your defense than the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm.
Other Licensure Concerns
A certification defense is among the most stressful challenges you may ever face as a teacher. Other challenges do come up, though. For example, in Illinois, educators frequently have to deal with
- Initial license applications
- License renewals
- Transferring a license from one state to another
- Satisfying professional development requirements
- Adding additional endorsements to your license
Because they spend their time dealing with the Illinois State Board of Education, the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are qualified to advise you on all types of legal issues related to the teaching profession. They know what issues teachers typically face, and they're ready to fight any time you need them.
What Can The Lento Law Firm Do For You?
A license defense can be a scary proposition. You may have to undergo an investigation; your life may be turned upside down; say the wrong thing, and it can be used against you. Plus, you're not simply facing a set of school board policies—Board of Education policy is written into Illinois state law. You're a teacher, a really good one, but you're not an attorney.
The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team understands your situation. They've helped hundreds of professionals deal with similar cases. They know the law, and they know the Illinois state certification system. You can count on them to make the entire process as straightforward as possible and to ensure you get the justice you deserve.