Teachers work long hours without the recognition and appreciation they deserve. To add insult to injury, many teachers face challenges and licensing reviews in Tennessee. If you are a teacher facing disciplinary action in Tennessee, you need a strong and effective defense that will provide the best outcome possible. The Lento Law Firm Team understands professional licensing and education law and understands how difficult it can be to defend yourself against accusations of misconduct.
The Lento Law Firm Team represents teachers, including administrators and others who hold and must defend a certification or license. Educators most often face disciplinary actions based on the following accusations:
- Accusations of an inappropriate romantic or sexual relationship with a student or child.
- Accusations of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Accusations of an assault or harm to a student.
- Other accusations of unethical conduct, including the teaching of banned books or concepts.
- Suspension of license for student loan default or nonpayment of child support.
If you are accused of misconduct, you must fight to clear your name. Even if you are able to resign, you may face placement on an interstate database, such as the NASDTEC Clearinghouse, under which allegations may follow you for the remainder of your life. No one accused of serious misconduct can afford to let the accusations sit and become part of a disciplinary record. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or submit your details online, and we will contact you.
Teaching of “Prohibited Concepts”
Issues surrounding the teaching of racial concepts remain a rapidly evolving area of Tennessee law. Violations of the laws banning the teaching of certain concepts may lead to a teacher's loss of licensure or district loss of funding. The law is facing challenges that will take years to advance through the court system. The Lento Law Firm understands this law and similar laws passed in several other jurisdictions. If you are an educator facing discipline based on the teaching of prohibited concepts, call the Lento Law Firm Team—we will be up-to-date and able to defend you based on challenges and rulings that may be happening in other states and courts.
Disciplinary Actions by the Board of Education
The Tennessee Board of Education may take the following actions against a teacher or educator accused of misconduct or other violations under TCA §49-1-302:
- Denial of License
- Suspension of License
- Revocation of License
- Permanent Revocation of License
The reasons for disciplinary actions against a teacher are contained in Rule 520-02-03-.09(5). The procedure used by the Board in these proceedings is contained in Board Policy 5.501.
The school district must report any instance in which a teacher or administrator is suspended, terminated, or resigns following allegations of misconduct. The Board will then review the facts and circumstances to ascertain whether the conduct at issue falls under discipline rules. If the Board determines that the conduct violates Board rules, they will serve notice on the educator. At this point, the educator may give notice of counsel and request a hearing. The hearing allowed under Board rules involves an administrative law judge (ALJ) who acts on behalf of and reports to the Board.
Conduct That May Lead to Discipline
Under Rule 520-02-03-.09(3), the State Board may revoke, suspend, formally reprimand, or refuse to issue or renew an educator's license for the following reasons:
- Conviction of a felony.
- Conviction of possession of illegal drugs.
- Possessing, consuming, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs on school property or a school activity.
- Falsification or altering a license or documentation required for licensure.
- Inappropriate physical contact with a student.
- Failure to report as required under rules.
- Noncompliance with a security guideline for a state-mandated test.
- Denial, formal reprimand, suspension, or revocation of a license or certificate in another state for reasons that would justify denial, formal reprimand, suspension, or revocation under TN rules.
- Other good cause, as defined in these rules.
Automatic Revocation or Denial
Under Rule 520-02-03-.09(4), the Board will automatically revoke the credentials of an educator where they have verification that the educator has been convicted of:
- Communicating a threat to a school employee, under TCA §39-13-114.
- Statutory rape by an authority figure, under TCA §39-13-532.
- Arson or aggravated arson, under TCA §39-14-301 to 302.
- Burglary, under TCA §39-13-1001 to 1004.
- Child abuse, neglect, or endangerment, under TCA §39-15-401.
- Aggravated child abuse, neglect, or endangerment, under TCA §39-15-402.
- Providing a handgun to a juvenile, under TCA §39-17-1320
- Sexual offense, under TCA §40-39-202.
- A felony under Title 39, chapter 13 or chapter 17, part 13.
- Any offense listed in TCA §39-17-417 to §40-35-501(i)(2).4.
- Being identified by DCS as having committed child abuse, after exhaustion of all remedies.
- Placement on the sex offender registry or vulnerable person's registry.
Suspension of License for Student Loan Default/Nonpayment of Child Support
Under Rule 520-02-03-.09(4)(c), the Board must automatically suspend the license of an educator where:
- The TN Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) or other agency gives the Board notice that the educator has defaulted on a student loan. However, the Board may elect not to suspend if the default was the result of medical hardship.
- The TN Department of Human Services notifies the Board that the educator has failed to pay child support as required under court order.
Notice of automatic suspension is provided at least 30 days prior. After action or negotiation to put the educator back in compliance, the Board will reinstate the license.
Disciplinary Actions and Suggested Penalties
The Board rules provide for a minimum and maximum penalty for all violations specifically enumerated in the rules. While the Board may use these guidelines as suggested, the Board is allowed to impose a penalty outside of the suggested range (i.e., either a lesser or greater penalty) for “good cause” shown. This language gives the Board wide latitude in determining an appropriate penalty or discipline for misconduct or violation of the rules. Never assume that your penalty will involve the loss of your license or a long-term suspension before talking to legal counsel.
The suggested penalties under Rule 520-02-03-.09(5) are as follows:
- Conviction of a Felony. Subject to 2-year suspension up to permanent revocation.
- Conviction of a Misdemeanor where a victim is a child or minor. Subject to 6-month suspension up to revocation of license.
- Use, possession, or being under the influence of drugs:
- On school premises where children are present. Subject to a 1-year suspension up to revocation.
- On school premises without children present. Subject to a 1-year suspension up to revocation.
- While participating in school activities and with children present. Subject to a 1-year suspension up to revocation of license.
- While participating in school activities without children present. Subject to a 6-month suspension up to a 2-year suspension.
- Negligence in duties as an educator.
- Without harm to a child. Subject to reprimand up to a 2-year suspension.
- With harm to a child. Subject to a 1-year suspension up to permanent revocation.
- Noncompliance with testing security guidelines. Subject to a reprimand up to revocation.
a. “Nonexplicit inappropriate communication with a student.” Subject to a 3-month suspension up to revocation.
- “Inappropriate communication of an explicit nature.” Subject to permanent revocation.
- Inappropriate physical contact.
- No harm to students or children. Subject to reprimand up to 2-year suspension.
- Harm to student or child. Subject to 2-year suspension up to revocation.
- Falsification of license documentation. Subject to revocation up to permanent revocation.
- Violation of Teacher Code of Ethics. Subject to reprimand up to revocation.
An educator may exercise reasonable force with otherwise lawful authority when necessary to prevent bodily harm to others under TCA §49-6-4107.
The TN Legislature has prohibited the teaching of the following prohibited concepts in a TN course or curriculum:
- That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
- An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.
- An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual's race or sex.
- An individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race or sex.
- An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
- An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual's race or sex.
- A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.
- This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.
- Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government.
- Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people.
- Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual's race or sex.
- The rule of law does not exist, but instead is series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.
- All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- Governments should deny to any person within the government's jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.
Notwithstanding the above, schools are not prohibited from including or promoting concepts as part of a course of instruction, in a curriculum or instructional program if those concepts involve:
- The history of an ethnic group, as described in textbooks and instructional materials adopted in accordance with TCA, §49-6-22.
- The impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history.
- The impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.
- Historical documents relevant to subdivisions .03(2)(a) -(c) that are permitted under Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1011.
Defending a Teaching License for Alleged Teaching of Prohibited Concepts
If you as a teacher are finding it difficult to ascertain what the prohibited concepts rules mean and prohibit, you are not alone. Further, the rules seem to ban discussions that you, as a teacher, cannot control—the opinions and statements of your students. The Lento Law Firm is mindful of the position this law may put you in as an educator. If you find your teaching license challenged on the basis of teaching a prohibited concept, call the Lento Firm quickly so that we can represent and advise you. We are a nationwide firm, and these types of laws are not limited to Tennessee. The Lento Firm can provide knowledgeable and tough representation for teachers accused of teaching prohibited concepts.
Stages of Hearing and Appeal
Stage 1: Investigation by Board
The first stage of a disciplinary action involving a teacher is the investigation stage. The Board of Education will investigate allegations against a teacher or educator in Tennessee.
Stage 2: Hearing
A tenured teacher may request a hearing within 30 days of notice of the action against them. The request for a hearing must be made in writing to the director of schools. The hearing will occur before a Hearing Officer (typically an administrative law judge). The Hearing Officer should be impartial with no history of employment with the any member of the Board and no history with the parties. A teacher has a number of rights—including the right to be represented by counsel, to subpoena witnesses, and to take witness statements in advance. The hearing is your opportunity to tell your side of the story and to defend your teaching license. To be really effective, a teacher or educator should be represented by legal counsel at this hearing.
Stage 3: Appeal
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Hearing Officer, you may go forward with an appeal to the full Board of Education or in court within 30 days.
The Lento Law Firm Represents Teachers Throughout Tennessee
The Lento Law Firm represents teachers in Tennessee, whether you are from Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, or any other city or area. We can help whether you are employed with a local school district or with a private or charter school. We understand that the culture of a community will be reflected in schools and the educational decisions of local administrators. The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team will lead the defense of your license, negotiating with the state and otherwise seeking the best possible resolution to your case. Call us today at 888-535-3686 or submit your details online, and we will contact you.