While teaching is a noble profession, it often comes with challenges and sacrifices, especially for teachers within the State of New York. Despite being one of the most populous states, the National Center for Education Statistics has historically reported on the state's “widespread and persistent teacher shortages,” increasing class sizes and work demands for teachers within the state. From long hours spent grading papers to managing high-class sizes and navigating the hurdles of budget cuts, New York teachers are under an incredible amount of pressure.
With mounting pressure, mistakes and misunderstandings become more prevalent, resulting in possible New York State Education Department investigations. If the New York State Education Department investigates you for potential teaching licensure violations, contact the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team for assistance today.
The New York State Education Department
Established in the early 1900s, the New York State Education Department is one of the oldest educational agencies in the United States. The Department operates under the authority of the New York State Board of Regents, an agency responsible for the “general supervision of all educational activities within the state.” The Department is divided into several different bureaus and offices. For example, the K-12 Education Office oversees the state's public school system by setting curriculum standards, teacher certification requirements, and assessment programs. Similarly, the Special Education Office oversees programs and services for students with disabilities. Additional offices include the Office of Cultural Resources, the Office of Adult Education, the Office of Performance Improvement and Management Services, and the Office of Religious and Independent School Support. The Office of Professional Licensing is tasked with licensing and regulating several professions, including private and public school teachers.
Oversight of Private School Teachers in New York
While licensing requirements of teachers employed by private schools vary from state to state, The New York State Department of Education requires private school teachers to have an active license issued by the state's Bureau of Propriety School Supervision. Private schools may have additional criteria for employment that go beyond the state's minimum licensing requirements.
It's important to note that private school teachers can face disciplinary actions, including license revocation, just like public school employees.
The Professional Assistance Program
The Board of Regents also runs The Professional Assistance Program, a state-funded program that assists professionals battling substance abuse, including teachers. The program allows teachers to sidestep professional misconduct charges if they voluntarily surrender their licenses while receiving substance abuse treatment. Admission to the program is not guaranteed, and hopeful participants must meet the following admission criteria:
- Participants must remain abstinent from taking all mood-altering substances.
- Participants must agree to the temporary voluntary surrender of their professional license.
- Participants must agree to enroll in a substance abuse program approved by the program.
- Participants must agree to ongoing monitoring, including toxicology testing, work-site reports, and random drug screenings.
While program applicants must interview with a member of the State Board, all interviews are informal and held in strict confidence.
Teaching License Violations
When teachers receive their licenses from New York's Office of Professional Licensing, they agree to adhere to high standards of ethics, morals, and professionalism. When teachers fail to meet these standards, The New York State Department of Education investigates the teachers. According to the state's Rules of the Board of Regents codified in Section 6511 of the State's Education Laws, several actions characterized as negligent, morally questionable, and unprofessional can place a teacher's license at risk. Some unprofessional conduct prohibited by the Board of Regents includes the following:
- Actions that are defined as gross incompetence or gross negligence.
- Discriminatory conduct based on race, creed, color, or national origin.
- Releasing confidential information without the appropriate authorization.
- Delegating professional responsibilities to a person not licensed to perform the activities.
- Sexual harassment.
- Physical abuse.
- Working under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Making or filing false reports with the Department of Education.
- Failure to respond within 30 days to written communications from the New York State Education Department.
Moral Character Actions
Because teachers are tasked with the incredible responsibility of forming young minds, the state takes allegations of moral unfitness very seriously. In fact, the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability (“OSPRA,”) is specifically designed to investigate allegations concerning the moral character of licensed teachers and applicants. OSPRA also requires school district superintendents to notify the state if any employee has been convicted of a crime or who has committed any action that raises questions about the professional's moral character.
Disciplinary Procedures and 30-20a Hearings
Disciplinary proceedings are triggered when members of the public, staff, student body, or superiors report allegations of unprofessional conduct. Complaints against public and private school teachers can be made to the New York State Department of Education and the Superintendent or Chief Administrative Officer of the local school district. Complaints involving moral turpitude or unfitness should be submitted to OSPRA for further review.
After receiving a complaint, the New York State Department of Education, or OSPRA, launches an official investigation. During this phase, the appropriate office gathers evidence and interviews relevant parties to determine whether there is merit in sustaining the complaint. Studies are often thorough, and you may be asked to speak with the investigator or comply by submitting requesting documents for their review.
The Pre-Hearing Conference
If the investigation yields evidence supporting the allegations, the teacher may receive notice of a pre-hearing conference. This notice should include the specific charges, a summary of the evidence, and the teacher's rights during the process. This conference allows the state's attorney (the Department's “General Counsel”) and the teacher's attorney to mediate the claims and potentially reach a settlement agreement. While a settlement agreement most often requires that the teacher admit guilt, it prevents the parties from proceeding to a formal hearing, the outcome of which can vary significantly up to the point of license revocation.
The hearing or adjudication allows both sides to present evidence, make arguments, and examine witnesses on their behalf. Teachers can have legal representation through a union representative or attorney. All the evidence and arguments are presented before the hearing office, a neutral third party who presides over the proceedings and ensures that the parties are treated equitably and fairly. After hearing all the evidence, the hearing officer decides whether the teacher should face disciplinary consequences. The hearing officer's decision can include recommendations for corrective action if the teacher is at fault. Possible resolutions vary depending on the severity of the allegations involved but can include:
- Financial penalties.
- Revocation of professional teaching licenses.
- Loss of employment at a particular school or a particular school district.
- Suspension without pay.
- Required completion of retributory programs such as anger management, substance abuse counseling, or counseling.
Suppose the teacher is dissatisfied with the hearing officer's decision. In that case, they may appeal the decision to the New York State Office of State Review. Appeals may be made on various grounds, such as errors in the hearing process or the decision itself. It's essential to note that appeals must be made in concrete time frames and meet exacting requirements in a particular format.
A 30-20a hearing is reserved for tenured teachers facing disciplinary consequences. These hearings are very similar to the typical review hearings conducted by the New York State Department of Education but differ in that they address the rights of tenured employees. For example, New York State Education Law states that tenured employees cannot be “disciplined or removed from employment except for ‘just cause…'”
Consequences of Losing Your License
Aside from the obvious consequences of financial instability and unemployment, losing your New York State teaching license can have devastating consequences in other areas of your life. The stress and uncertainty of the investigation and/or revocation can strain your relations immensely. Your spouse, children, and friends may not fully understand the situation, which can lead to increased tension and emotional stress at home. This stress can also take an emotional toll on you as you may struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.
Losing your license can also damage your professional reputation. Once word spreads that you have lost your teaching license, future employers, colleagues, and community members may question your integrity and qualifications as an educator. As a result, securing other teacher positions in other districts or states may be very challenging if these positions are not closed off entirely.
Finally, losing your teaching license can disrupt your pension benefits and retirement plans, especially if you had planned on a long-term career in education.
How the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm Can Help
Our Professional License Defense Team understands the work you have put into achieving your professional licenses and certifications – we've been there. We understand that losing your teaching license goes much deeper than a professional wound. We will help you through every step of the disciplinary process, from the investigation to settlement conversations and, if necessary, through a hearing and appeal. We understand your case's legal nuances and procedural requirements and can help you navigate the vast New York State education and licensing laws.
Although you may be tempted to fight these allegations alone, your inexperience with license defense proceedings can jeopardize your results, especially when you are fighting the New York State Education Department, which has an entire state's worth of resources and ingenuity on its side.
Our attorneys have a successful track record of defending teachers. They will help you by identifying the ideal outcome of your case, obtaining all relevant evidence and testimony, exploring settlements, representing you throughout the hearing process, and, if necessary, an appeal. There is no substitute for our experience, and we will not rest until we achieve the best possible outcome for your unique circumstances.
Areas our Professional License Defense Team Serves
Our Professional License Defense Team is available to assist Teachers facing licensure actions in all 62 counties located within the state of New York. We are known state-wide to represent teaching professionals, including those located within the following six major metropolitan statistical areas and some of their corresponding school districts:
- Albany-Schenectady-Troy Metropolitan Area
- North Colony Central School District
- Bethlehem Central School District
- Niskayuna Central School District
- Buffalo-Cheektowaga Metropolitan Area
- Williamsville Central School District
- Clarence Central School District
- Amherst Central School District
- Elmira-Corning Metropolitan Area
- Elmira Heights Central School District
- Elmira City School District
- Ithaca-Cortland Metropolitan Area
- Cortland City School District
- Lansing Central School District
- Groton Central School District
- Trumansburg Central School District
- Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls Metropolitan Area
- Rochester City School District
- Greece Central School District
- Webster Central School District
- Pittsford Central School District
- Syracuse-Auburn Metropolitan Area
- Union Springs Central School District
- Weedsport Central School District
- Auburn Enlarged City School District
Our Professional License Defense Team can assist private teachers fighting allegations in schools such as Uta of Kiryas Joel, Bais Rochel School, St. Francis Prep., Avenues The World School, and Chaminade High School.
Don't Fight the New York State Department of Education Alone!
Although the road to fighting the New York State Department of Education may feel insurmountable, it is navigable. Our Professional License Defense Team will take the time to understand your unique circumstances and fight for your teaching license. We are equipped to face the resources that the New York State Department of Education has on their side. We also understand the inspiration you've ignored and the futures you've shaped. We will not let you give up on yourself or your students! Contact us today, anytime, day or night, for a consultation by calling 888-535-3686 or by using our online contact form.