Long working hours, compensation that's often on the lower end, and effort that frequently goes underappreciated are shared experiences by many teachers within the state of New Jersey. Nonetheless, educators persist through what often feels like a “thankless job” and are driven by a genuine passion for making a meaningful impact in their students' lives. However, constrained resources and substantial pressure can lead to unintentional mistakes and misunderstandings, which place your New Jersey teaching license on the line. If the New Jersey Department of Education investigates you for professional, ethical, or moral misconduct, your livelihood and reputation are potentially at stake.
If you find yourself fighting for your license or appealing a disciplinary decision by the Department of Education, our Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm has experience standing up to the New Jersey bureaucracy and can help you craft a strategic defense through these allegations. Contact us today by calling (888) 535-3686 or filling out our convenient online contact form.
The New Jersey Department of Education
The New Jersey Department of Education is a state-level administrative body that monitors the regulation and oversight of public education within the state. The Commissioner of Education leads the Department, consisting of several divisions and offices such as the Office of Special Education, School Finance, Curriculum & Assessment, and Educator Effectiveness.
The Department also oversees teacher certification requirements and ensures educators uphold professional standards and facilitate ongoing professional development.
Earning a Teaching Credential in New Jersey
All teachers in New Jersey must be appropriately certified by the New Jersey Department of Education, including educators working at public schools, juvenile justice centers, vocational-technical schools, charter schools, special services schools, and private schools for students with disabilities approved by the state. To become a certified teacher, New Jersey educators must complete the following minimum requirements:
- Earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.
- If already licensed in another state, complete an application for reciprocity.
- Earn qualifying scores on the Praxis Core Test, which fulfills the Basic Skills Requirement in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Competency. Applicants can waive this requirement by scoring in the “top one-third percentile on the SAT, ACT, or GRE for the year the test was taken.”
- Completion of additional Praxis Subject Tests that may be required depending on the chosen instruction field.
- Completion of an application for certification and background check.
- The requisite number of teaching hours that may be required depending on the chosen field of instruction.
In addition to the initial licensing requirements, New Jersey educators are held to additional “mandatory professional development requirements” specific to their field. These requirements are detailed under New Jersey's Professional Development Code in N.J.A.C. § 6A:9C of the state's code. This Code underscores the importance of teachers developing proper equity practices, skills in curriculum, assessment, and instruction, and professional expertise. Under this code, teachers must routinely complete training in the following areas:
- Instruction on screening, intervention, and accommodations for students with reading disabilities.
- Suicide prevention awareness.
- Effective implementation of policies, procedures, programs, and initiatives that combat campus harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
- Identification of symptoms and behaviors associated with substance abuse.
- Appropriate school safety and security concerns, including the proper tactics to employ during campus crises and law enforcement operations.
- Gang awareness training.
- Prevention, intervention, and remediation of appropriately responding to student conduct violations.
- Early detection of missing, abused, or neglected children.
- Additional district-specific requirements.
Conduct and Responsibilities of New Jersey Educators
The New Jersey Professional Standards for Teachers and School Leaders were adopted by the Department of Education in 2003 and provide a clear vision of the skills teachers must exercise to remain professionally compliant. These ten standards are as follows:
Subject Matter Knowledge
This standard requires teachers to understand the “central concepts, tools of inquiry [and] structures of discipline” related to their discipline and other content areas. By emphasizing these values, the Department of Education hopes students learn to think and problem-solve critically and creatively from their teachers.
Human Growth and Development
Under this standard, educators must “understand how children and adolescents develop and learn in various school, family, and community contexts” and use that knowledge to promote educational opportunities that foster students' intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development. To demonstrate this standard, the State expects teachers to understand how individual experiences influence student learning, how to identify students' developmental abilities, and how to teach students to acquire skills and develop habits that help them achieve in educational environments.
New Jersey expects educators to understand how using “culturally responsive teaching effectively” impacts their students' ability for success. This standard is based on the expectation that teachers will know how to use their students' worldviews and life experiences to develop a learning community that celebrates individual differences. In this role, educators must also use knowledge of their students' lives to “design and carry out instruction” that plays on their students' rights.
Instructional Planning and Strategies
The Instructional Planning and Strategies standard mandates effective instructional planning and an ability to harness “appropriate resources and materials for instructional planning.” Educators can meet this standard by developing effective short-term and long-term plans, curriculum goals, and instructional approaches that use various technologies and skill sets. Educators will fail to meet this standard if they do not base their instruction on “knowledge of classroom, school, and community culture.”
According to the state's Assessment standard, educators must be trained and continue to utilize appropriate assessment strategies to “evaluate and promote student learning.” This standard emphasizes the need for teachers to monitor students' strengths and opportunities for learning.
The Learning Environment Standard underscores the need for teachers to understand how to build an effective learning environment. According to this standard, educators must use individual and group motivations and behaviors to develop a supportive, safe, and respectful learning environment within their classrooms. Teachers are also expected to create a ”positive climate in the school” through methods such as effective listening.
The state's standard on special needs instruction requires that all teachers adapt and modify instruction to accommodate the special learning needs of students. This standard does not require each teacher to be a certified special education teacher but rather that they know how to access information applicable to special education laws and how to implement a student's education plan.
The communication standard instructs teachers to use effective verbal, non-verbal, and written communication techniques throughout the learning process. Components of this standard include the ability to appreciate things such as the “cultural dimension of communication” and communicate with students in a thoughtful and responsive listener. Educators may fail to meet this standard if they do not demonstrate a sensitivity to “cultural, linguistic, gender, and social differences.”
Collaboration and Partnerships
Under this standard, educators must respect their role in the community by building appropriate relationships with parents, family members, and larger community agencies that support a student's overall well-being. This standard requires that teachers be concerned not only with a student's academic success but also with their overall well-being.
As members of the profession, New Jersey educators must actively participate in their professional community by “pursuing opportunities to grow professionally and establish relationships that enhance the teaching and learning process.
What Other Types of Actions Place My Teaching Certificate at Risk?
New Jersey educators who fail to meet the state's standards may face professional, ethical, or moral misconduct allegations, placing their licenses at risk. Other types of behaviors that can put your New Jersey teaching license at risk include:
- Sexual harassment
- Certain types of felony and misdemeanor convictions
- Substance abuse
The Disciplinary Process
The Board of Examiners, appointed by the New Jersey Department of Education, not only issues all certificates required for teachers to gain public school employment in New Jersey but also oversees the revocation and suspension of teaching licenses and review of and monitoring of educators with criminal records and convictions. If a New Jersey demonstrates unprofessional conduct or is otherwise incapacitated to teach, the Board is authorized to pursue disciplinary proceedings against the teacher.
The Board cannot, however, initiate disciplinary actions unless it ensures that the educator receives due process rights throughout the disciplinary process. Due process is a term that affords an accused individual the right to be notified about the allegations against them and present their side of the story before a neutral arbitrator. To ensure that educators receive due process, the disciplinary process employed by the Board will typically unfold in the following steps.
A complaint is made to the New Jersey Department of Education by a student, public member, colleague, or supervisor alleging professional, ethical, or moral misconduct. Complaints can be made confidentially, depending on who is reporting the misconduct.
After receiving a complaint, the Department of Investigation investigates the allegations and notifies the teacher that a complaint has been lodged against them. Throughout this process, the Department may ask to speak to witnesses, review documents, or inspect other evidence of misconduct. During this investigatory period, educators are allowed to respond to the allegations against them, usually in writing, and provide any additional evidence in their favor. Educators must be notified about the investigation results and have a report copy.
If the educator does not admit wrongdoing, the matter will proceed to a formal proceeding either in front of the Board of Examiners or through the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law. This office hears “contested cases for state agencies and issues initial decisions.” If the matter proceeds to the Office of Administrative Law, the hearing will occur before an administrative law judge. Though not a civil trial, this hearing is formal, and each party will be able to present opening and closing statements, submit evidence and testimony, cross-examine witnesses, and make arguments of fact and law. The Administrative Law Judge may also order additional actions leading up to the hearing, including submitting a legal brief, order of subpoenas, proof of pre-hearing settlement attempts, etc. Each step must be conducted according to the timelines and formatting requirements of the New Jersey Administrative Code.
It may be possible to avoid going to a hearing if the State and educator reach a settlement agreement at a pre-hearing conference. These settlements are not guaranteed and will depend on various factors, including how strongly the educator feels about “cleaning their name,” which a payment will not accomplish.
Although you may feel tempted to represent yourself, administrative hearings are legally complicated and require extensive knowledge of federal, state, and local education laws. Working with our Professional License Defense Team ensures that your defense is handled in a strategic manner that will optimize your chances of success.
The hearing officer or Administrative Law Judge will issue a written decision after the hearing. Decisions will range from dismissing the matter to license suspensions, revocations, or other creative forms of disciplinary action such as fines, mandatory community service, anger management programs, continuing education hours, etc.
If you are issued a decision that you disagree with, you may be able to appeal the decision by requesting a review of the outcome. A request for appeal must meet all the rules found within the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey.
What About Private School Teachers?
The New Jersey Department of Education does not require private school teachers to. Private school teachers employed at special schools that receive state funds, such as schools for the medically blind or deaf, must have state certifications. Teachers at private schools can still face disciplinary actions if they violate their employer's conduct standards.
If you are facing professional misconduct allegations at a private school in New Jersey, we can help! Contact our Professional License Defense Team for assistance by calling (888) 535-3686 or filling out our convenient online contact form.
Consequences of Losing Your New Jersey Teaching License
Having your teaching certificate revoked can trigger a cascade of financial and personal challenges. Professionally, it can slam the brakes on your career, making a return to the education sector seem like a distant dream. The loss of a stable income can usher in financial strains, affecting your way of life, bill payments, and future planning – not to mention your family life and personal relationships.
Areas Our Professional License Defense Team Serves
Our Professional License Defense Team is available to assist teachers facing licensure actions in all 21 counties in New Jersey. Some of the major metropolitan areas and their corresponding school districts include:
- South Orange-Maplewood School District
- Bloomfield Township School District
- Kearney School District
- Elizabeth Public Schools
- Belleville Public Schools
- Jersey City
- Hoboken Public School District
- Jersey City School District
- Jersey City Public Schools
- Hudson County Schools of The Technology School District
- Paterson Public School District
- Paterson City School District
- Woodbridge Township
- Woodbridge Township School District
- East Williston School District
- East Williston Union Free School District
- Toms River
- Tom's River Regional School District
- Clifton Public School District
- Clifton Public Schools
- Trenton Public School District
Our Professional License Defense Team can also assist private teachers in fighting allegations in schools such as The Lawrenceville School, Princeton Day School, the Pennington School, The Pingry School, and Saint Peter's Preparatory School.
Fight for Your New Jersey Teaching Certificate
Facing an investigation due to alleged professional misconduct can feel like the ground is shifting beneath your feet. But remember, you have support, and you're not navigating this journey alone! Our Professional License Defense Team routinely challenges state education departments and can help you craft a strategic defense to ensure the best possible outcome. Contact us today, anytime, day or night, for a consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or using our online contact form.