A Minnesota substitute teacher is facing license suspension over an alleged altercation with a student in the fall of 2021. According to reports and documentation from Minnesota's Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, the teacher allegedly became physical with a student over a pen taken from the teacher's desk without permission, during which time the teacher grabbed him by the forearm, applied force to the back of his neck, and effectively pinned the student's head in an attempt to recover the pen.
The substitute teacher held a Pre-K through adult "short-call" license, which allowed him to teach for up to 15-day stints. The PELSB has suspended his license but may reinstate it on the condition that the teacher pay for and attend a state-approved "boundaries training" class. The teacher was also convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct as a result of the altercation.
The Consequences of "Horsing Around"
According to the documentation of the incident, the substitute teacher was "horsing around" with the student, which suggests his intentions were not violent. However, licensed and/or credentialed teachers have been entrusted with the safety of students, and any undue physical contact will likely be held to great scrutiny. As a result, this teacher's "horsing around" with the student was considered a grave violation of protocol. (The official reason for the license suspension was "inappropriate contact" with a student.)
Every state has its own specific laws when it comes to punishments for elementary or secondary education instructors who get into physical altercations with students. In general, though, any type of unprofessional conduct can result in disciplinary action or even revocation of one's professional license. Depending on the severity of the altercation and the state in which you teach, you could also face suspension without pay or even termination from your job.
Intentions Are Not Taken into Account
The other key takeaway from this story is that the state board did not take the instructor's intentions into consideration when deciding on disciplinary action. In other words, it didn't matter whether the instructor was just "horsing around" or intended to be violent—the contact with the student was considered unnecessary, forceful, and inappropriate just the same. This is an important point for instructors to understand because even an attempt to be physically "playful" can easily be misinterpreted as violent and unsafe by both students and their parents—not to mention the school authorities and your local and state Boards of Education.
When You Need an Attorney's Help
Regardless of whether you made an honest mistake or your actions were misrepresented--if you're a licensed and/or credentialed teacher and you've been accused of inappropriate contact with a student, the time to call a professional license attorney is at the first sign of trouble. If you wait until you're summoned to a disciplinary hearing, the school board will likely already have built a case against you, and you'll be coming from a defensive posture. Involving a skilled attorney early in the process (even after questions about an "altercation" have been raised) will give your attorney more opportunities to respond to the complaint and negotiate for leniency with the board, giving you a better chance at keeping your license and your career.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is nationally regarded for his experience in resolving disciplinary issues, and he and his Professional License Defense Team will work on your behalf to resolve your case favorably. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation.