As an educator, your teaching certificate is one of your most valuable possessions, right up there with your sense of patience and your basketball-sized bladder. It was no easy task getting it in the first place: the years of college, the practice teaching, the testing. You must take any threat to your certification seriously.
What does taking a threat seriously mean?
It means you find out absolutely everything you can about your situation. You make sure you know exactly what you've been accused of doing. You investigate Louisiana State Department of Education judicial procedures. You collect evidence and make sure the state gives you copies of any evidence it has.
Most importantly, though, you get help. A certification defense will ask a lot of you, and you need to be ready for it. You don't want to try to do it alone, though. You're dealing with state officials attempting to enforce state laws. You can count on the Department of Ed to have its own attorneys, and if someone specific has accused you of misconduct, they'll likely have their own lawyers as well. You need someone in your corner, fighting for your rights and ensuring that you get the justice you deserve.
The Lento Law Firm was built to protect professionals like teachers. The firm's attorneys know the law as it applies to education. They also know how the licensing system in Louisiana operates. Any time you're dealing with a certification issue—large or small—you contact the Lento Law Firm. That's taking it seriously.
Just What Can Put Your Teaching License at Risk?
Let's start with the basics. Just what is it that can put your certification at risk? Louisiana state law lists five specific types of misconduct that can get your license suspended or revoked. Knowing these can help keep you out of trouble in the first place. It's also key information to have if, despite your best efforts, trouble should come looking for you.
- Conviction for Certain Crimes: Louisiana checks your criminal background before granting you a license, and it receives regular reports from all country clerks regarding new convictions. As you might expect, all crimes involving children are subject to immediate license suspension or revocation, as are all crimes involving violence. Even something as small as an “obscenity” charge, though, can get you into trouble. Keep in mind as well that “conviction” includes any case in which you plead guilty or no contest to the charges.
- Submission of Fraudulent Credentials: Obviously, if you say you've been trained and educated to teach, the Department of Ed expects you to be able to back that up with genuine documents. Misrepresentation of any kind is grounds for disciplinary action.
- Professional License Censure: If you've ever been officially censured by a certifying teachers' agency, even if that censure occurred in another state, the Louisiana Department of Ed can sanction you as well.
- Participation in Cheating: You can also be sanctioned for involvement in any cheating scheme or simply for failing to maintain adequate security during an official exam.
- Failure to Meet Standards of Effectiveness: “Effectiveness” is carefully defined and measured. You can't have your license suspended simply because your principal doesn't like your work. Supervisors must be able to document your ineffectiveness in the classroom. However, the definitions and measures of effectiveness are subject to change, and it's important you always know what's expected of you from a legal standpoint.
Of course, no one would argue that the state of Louisiana shouldn't have high standards for and expectations of teachers. Anyone who works with children, but especially those who are responsible for molding young minds, should have to demonstrate that they take their positions seriously. That said, school boards and administrators get it wrong sometimes. Misunderstandings happen. Occasionally, an emotionally charged situation will lead someone to make an unfounded allegation. You have the right to defend yourself and your reputation as an instructor.
In fact, even if you have made a mistake, it doesn't necessarily mean you deserve to be sanctioned. State education departments are under enormous pressure these days to discipline bad teachers, and they have a tendency to assign overly harsh penalties in order to please their constituents. Don't simply accept suspension or revocation just because you feel guilty. Let the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm negotiate a settlement that's actually fair.
The Disciplinary Process for Teachers in Louisiana
The Louisiana Department of Education can't simply revoke your license because it doesn't like something you've said or done. There is a process in place that the department must follow before it can issue any sanctions.
However, you should know that this process does not afford you many due process rights. That's one reason it is so important to have an attorney from the Lento Law Firm on your side. You need someone looking out for your interests, someone to make sure you're being treated fairly, and to raise questions when you're not.
Here's a brief overview of what the disciplinary process looks like in Louisiana, followed by a closer look into each individual part.
- Cases begin with a complaint.
- The Department of Education investigates that complaint.
- If the department determines you are guilty of violating state policy, it then issues a sanction.
- You then have the right to file an appeal or “documents review.”
A complaint against you can literally arise from anywhere: a student, a parent, a colleague, or a supervisor might raise questions about your teaching or your personal conduct. In practice, though, most investigations begin for one of three reasons.
- Your Local Education Agency (LEA), often your school board or administration, reports you to the Department of Education. LEAs are required to report any teacher termination, for example, or resignations in lieu of termination.
- The Department of Ed receives a report that a teacher has been convicted of a state or federal crime.
- The department itself has some questions as to your record—questions about your credentials, for example, your failure to meet classroom effectiveness standards, or your involvement in cheating.
The investigative process in all cases is roughly the same. The governing body of the Louisiana Department of Education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), a sub-committee of the Board, or a representative appointed by the Board actually conducts the investigation. Generally, this involves a review of the primary documents in the case, though investigators may need to interview relevant parties to verify those documents.
State law mentions that the Board will “attempt” to notify teachers they are under investigation when their LEA has reported them or they've been accused of involvement in test cheating. However, the Board is under no obligation to notify them in cases where a criminal background check has turned up a conviction, their credentials are in question, or the Board receives notification of censure from another certification authority.
The Louisiana Board of Education is empowered to act on the results of its investigation and to recommend sanctions to the Department of Education without providing you with any formal opportunity to defend yourself. While it must conduct some form of investigation, it is not required to hold hearings into any certification issue.
The law provides for a variety of different sanctions in response to a finding of “Responsible” (guilt).
- Denial of certification renewal
- Monitoring of test administration in cases of test security violation
- Certification suspension for a prescribed period of time
- Total revocation of teaching certification.
The Department of Education is required to notify you of a sanction, after which you have ten days to provide proof of mistaken identity or misinformation before the sanction takes effect.
In general, the BESE makes its decisions without input from the teacher who is under review. It makes its recommendations, and the Department of Education issues sanctions. In some cases, you may never even know you were being investigated until you receive notification of that sanction.
However, you do have the right to appeal BESE findings by requesting an official “documents review.” As part of the appeal process, you are entitled to submit your own documents for consideration, and the Department of Education encourages applicants to submit
“letters of recommendation from past/ present employers, educator and professional references, and community leaders that evidence the character, ethics, rehabilitation and accomplishments of the educator.”
However, here again, there is no hearing procedure in place, and you have no opportunity to call witnesses or even to address the Board yourself: “Only the written documentation” is considered. Further,
“the Board is not required to conduct an issuance or reinstatement records review and may summarily deny a request.”
In such cases, your only recourse is to appeal the decision “to a court of proper jurisdiction in accordance with the law.”
Why You Need a Professional License Defense Team
As should be evident at this point, Louisiana's certification system offers limited options when it comes to defending yourself. You can submit proof of mistaken identity in some cases. You can always request a records review. However, the BESE is under no obligation to accept your request, and even if it does undertake an appeal, you have no right to respond to accusations in person.
It should be clear enough, then, just why you need an attorney to help you navigate this process and defend yourself.
- The BESE and the Department of Education are not on your side in these cases. You may be used to thinking of these agencies as teacher advocates. Once you're under investigation, though, you can expect them to be zealous in prosecuting you. And, with a system that provides you with limited rights, you absolutely need someone in your corner to make sure you're treated fairly.
- A certification defense can be complex. Even though there is no hearing, it's crucial that you submit the very best documentary evidence you can assemble. The right attorney can help you to gather and organize this evidence. In addition, they can work with you to draft documents such as the appeal itself. Most importantly, they can help you avoid making any missteps along the way.
- We said this before, but it bears repeating: you cannot afford to take any threat to your certification lightly. Your teaching certificate is your livelihood; it's the foundation of your career. With so much at risk, you need the best professional help you can get. You need an attorney from the Lento Law Firm.
When your credentials are called into question, you may be tempted to hire a local or family attorney. These lawyers have the advantage of being readily available, with offices right downtown on Main Street. You may have a previously existing relationship with a local attorney. You may be so stressed that you simply want to go with the easiest option, the attorney who is most readily available.
Here's what's wrong with that logic. A certification defense is a very particular type of judicial procedure. While you want a litigator, an experienced defense attorney, you also want someone who is familiar with the Louisiana teacher certification system. A certification defense isn't the same as a criminal court case. Your case isn't decided by a judge with years of legal training. The Board doesn't have to find you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in order to sanction you. In short, these cases have their own particular rules. A local attorney won't be familiar with these rules.
The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are defense attorneys who work in the very particular field of professional license defenses. They know the law, especially as it applies to education, but they're also well-versed in the Louisiana teacher certification process. They know the rules and procedures; they're familiar with what Board members expect in terms of evidence; they even keep up with who is on the Board and how personalities influence Board decisions. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are in the best position to make sure you're treated fairly and that you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
Other Licensure Concerns
There is no more serious situation a teacher can face than a threat to their license. As an educator, though, you do deal with lots of other legal issues. Because they spend so much time focused on the Louisiana certification system, the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are well-positioned to offer advice on a wide range of topics that affect your career, including
- Initial license applications
- License renewals
- Obtaining a license when moving from one state to another
- Accumulating professional development hours
- Adding additional endorsements to your license
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—BESE 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 attorneys 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 Louisiana 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.