As any teacher knows, teaching in Montana comes with its own set of challenges. The state's uniquely rural communities, teacher shortages, and harsh weather conditions can frequently hinder a school's professional development opportunities, technology, and support. Additional stresses of long hours, low pay, and infrequent appreciation can also take their toll on many educators. Despite these challenges, many Montana teachers stay committed to their calling, even in the face of unfounded professional misconduct allegations.
If the Montana Board of Public Education is investigating you for suspected professional, ethical, or moral misconduct, your teaching license may be at risk of suspension and revocation. Fortunately, laws, policies, and procedures protect your Montana teaching license and allow you to share your side of the story. Contact the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team today to learn more about how to protect your license. Call us at 888-535-3686 or reach us by utilizing our online contact form.
The Montana Board of Public Education
The Montana Board of Public Education (the “Board”) plays a pivotal role in the state issuance, renewal, and oversight of teaching licenses. It also provides educators with training, resources, and support to enhance their teaching practices and stay current with the latest research in their respective fields. Additionally, the Board establishes academic standards for schools and monitors their implementation.
In cases of unprofessional, unethical, or immoral conduct, the department investigates teachers and decides whether to suspend or revoke their licenses.
Montana Accreditation Standards
The state's licensing standards are in Rule Chapter 10.57, entitled “Education Licensure.” Montana educators must sacrifice and work hard to prove their competency in several areas to earn their state teaching license. The Board's Office of Public Instruction oversees and reviews all applications for licensure. Some of the achievements educators must have to earn their license include:
- Earning a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.
- Completing a professional educator's preparation course.
- Passing a background check.
- Passing the Praxis Subject Academic Assessments in their desired area of teaching.
- Completing verified teaching hours may vary depending on their desired teaching area.
- Receiving minimum scores on the test of basic skills.
- Receiving an institutional recommendation for a teaching license.
Can the State Deny My Licensing Application Because of my Criminal History?
It depends. According to §2-04-11 of the state's code, licensure applications may be denied if a person has been convicted of a crime that calls to question their ability to stay committed to the safety and well-being of pupils under their care. Applications may also be rejected if the applicant has exercised immoral, unprofessional, or unethical conduct as an educator in another state. Applicants may explain the circumstances and nature of their conviction to the Board, which will consider the applicant's statements. Under Rule 10.57.201A of the state's Administrative Rules, an applicant may challenge the accuracy and completeness of any information in their criminal background report by filing a correction request with the Montana Department of Justice.
Responsibilities of Montana Educators
Montana has established rules and regulations to maintain high standards of behavior among teachers, ensuring that the teaching profession retains its integrity.
The state's “Professional Educators of Montana Code of Ethics” lays out the “fundamental principles” that Montana educators are held to, each addressed below.
Commitment to Students and Families
This principle requires educators to demonstrate that they can uphold ethical standards and behavior to demonstrate a commitment to their students and their families, especially while recognizing and respecting the roles of parents and guardians. Educators must prioritize students' well-being as the foundation for their decisions and actions. This requirement also extends to maintaining confidentiality and safeguarding students from harm caused by unsafe, unethical, or illegal practices. It includes creating a boundary in their educator-student relationships and communications via speech, print, and online. Finally, although difficult, educators must maintain high expectations for their students while encouraging curiosity and creativity.
Commitment to the Profession
Montana educators must demonstrate that they will carry out their professional responsibilities diligently and with unwavering integrity to the teaching profession. To do so, the state expects teachers to continually desire professional development, as seen through their willingness to collaborate with peers and accept accountability in areas of poor performance. These interpersonal skills must also translate to recognizing their colleagues' roles, responsibilities, and rights, including support staff and supervisors. From a technology perspective, teachers must also understand how to handle their students' data responsibly and honestly.
Although many educators around the country may frequently ride the line of oversharing their personal or political beliefs with students, the code prohibits Montana teachers from using their role as an educator to impart biased or impartial opinions.
Commitment to Community
Montana educators are called to an ever-higher standard of model behavior. This means that teachers must not only be good role models for their students but also consider their importance as role models for citizenship in a democratic society. To accomplish this, Montana educators are expected to safeguard their students' civil and human rights and model how to engage in discussions of values and diversity constructively. Teachers must also extend this same vigilance to their relationships with colleagues and must continually work to foster an atmosphere of respect. In addition to state and federal law, teachers can learn and are expected to adhere to their district's contractual agreements, policies, and procedures that address how educators can demonstrate a commitment to their community.
Each of these principles can apply to various unique circumstances, which may put your license at risk. Suppose you fail to demonstrate appropriate commitment to students, families, and the community. In that case, the Board may take various disciplinary steps, including issuing a letter of reprimand or proceeding with license suspension or revocation.
The Board's Disciplinary Process
Section 2-4-10 of the state's code, entitled “Letter of Reprimand, Suspension, Revocation, and Denial of Certificate,” lays out the disciplinary process involved for Montana teachers accused of misconduct violations. The code is summarized below.
Letters of Reprimand
A Letter of Reprimand is the least severe consequence a Montana educator may face. Under the code, Letters of Reprimand are appropriate where an educator has:
- Knowingly made a false statement when applying for a teaching license.
- Demonstrated incompetency or gross neglect of duty.
- Been convicted of or plead guilty to a crime involving moral turpitude (assault, kidnapping, human trafficking, domestic violence, etc.)
- Demonstrated “immoral conduct” related to their teaching profession.
- Failed to uphold the terms of their employment contract without reasonable cause or with the trustees' written consent.
- Has had a teaching license denied, revoked, suspended, or surrendered in another state.
Suspensions and Revocations
If a district's trustees, the superintendent of public instruction, requests the Board to initiate license suspension or revocation proceedings, the Board shall investigate and determine whether further proceedings are required. A district's trustees or the superintendent of public instruction will typically refer complaints they have received from members of the public, parents, students, colleagues, etc., to the board after first considering whether a district-level consequence was appropriate. It's important to note that these requests by the Board must be brought within one year after the alleged conduct.
If the Board warrants further investigation is needed, they must provide the teacher with Due Process. This legal term means that the teacher has a right to be notified of the allegations against them and present their side of the story before a neutral decision-maker before suffering any employment consequences. To ensure due process is provided, the rest of the disciplinary process will typically take place in the following steps:
- Notification: The Board will provide a 30-day written notification informing the educator of their choice to proceed with suspension or revocation.
- Investigation: The Board will next investigate the alleged incident. Throughout this process, the Board may request the educator to provide a written statement or comply with document requests. The Board may also speak to any witnesses involved or interview people such as colleagues, community members, etc. The Board may find no basis for disciplinary conduct, dismiss the allegations, or proceed to a hearing.
- Hearing: If the Board determines that the investigation warrants further action, the matter will proceed to a formal administrative hearing. These hearings are held before a neutral decision-maker. Hearings are conducted much like a mini-trial, allowing both sides to present their case through witness testimony, cross-examination, evidence, and arguments. While this may seem easy, these hearings are very technically complicated and must adhere to federal and state laws, administrative regulations, procedural requirements, and rules of evidence. Individuals attempting to represent themselves at these hearings will likely find themselves unmatched by the state's powers and bureaucracies. Fortunately, our Professional License Defense Team has navigated many of these hearings and can help you strategize to create the best possible defense for your unique challenges.
- Decision: After the hearing, the Board may dismiss the claims, suspend the educator's license for a period of up to 2 years, or revoke the educator's license. The Board may also issue a reprimand with remedial consequences such as professional development courses, anger management, etc.
- Appeal: Depending on your circumstances, you may want to appeal the Board's decision or later apply to renew your license. Any decision of the Board in appeal matters is determined “final” from an administrative level but may be challenged in other legal avenues.
Consequences of Losing Your Montana Teaching License
Losing a teaching license in Montana can have far-reaching personal and professional consequences. The stress of the investigation and hearing can bleed into other areas of your life and strain personal relationships.
Educators who do lose their license often suffer from feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression due to their reputational damage and inability to provide for their families in the same fashion. Gaining future employment may also be challenging, as license revocation may disqualify educators from working with minors.
How the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team Can Help
The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team understands the importance of your teaching license. We know you have made many sacrifices to earn your license, and we are committed to crafting a defense that will achieve the best possible outcome for your unique situation. From communicating with your district and the Board on your behalf to navigating settlement options and strategies for hearing, we will be there with you every step of the way.
What About Private School Teachers?
Although some states may require teachers in private schools to hold valid teaching credentials, Montana does not. However, teachers in Montana private schools that elect to be accredited by the state must only employ educators with a valid teaching credential issued by the state. If schools do not elect to be certified by the state, they may still operate as educational institutions regardless of whether their teachers hold a state credential.
However, it's important to note that unaccredited teachers are not immune from disciplinary action. Instead, many private schools have even higher expectations for their teachers and will swiftly react to professional, ethical, and moral misconduct.
If you are facing a disciplinary proceeding at a private school, our Professional License Defense Team can still help.
Areas Our Professional License Defense Team Serves
We help teachers facing licensure actions in all 56 counties across Montana, including large metropolitan areas, rural areas, and their respective school districts. Our services extend to Billings, Anaconda, Belgrade, Bozeman, and other regions. We can also help educators facing misconduct violations in private schools, such as Lustre Christian High School, Whitefish Christian Academy, Sussex School, and Headwaters Academy.
Fight for Your Montana Teaching License
Our Professional License Defense Team is prepared to understand your unique situation and advocate for your teaching license. We are equipped to face the resources of the Montana Board of Public Education. Contact us today for a consultation at 888-535-3686 or through our online contact form. We are available day or night to assist you.