Teaching is a difficult profession involving long hours and strenuous conditions, but for many teachers, the rewards of teaching outweigh these challenges. But, it is common for teachers to face accusations of wrongdoing or misconduct, and these accusations may put a teaching license in jeopardy. If you are a teacher facing disciplinary action in Vermont, you need a strong and effective defense that will provide the best outcome possible. The professional standards for teachers and administrators in Vermont are set extremely high, and the procedures for defense may be challenging without legal counsel. 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, including those in Vermont, most often face disciplinary actions based on the following accusations:
- Accusations of an inappropriate romantic or sexual relationship with a student or minor.
- Accusations of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Accusations of an assault or harm to a student.
- Other accusations of unethical conduct.
If you are accused of misconduct, you may be forced to fight to explain or clear your name. If your license is suspended or revoked, the damage to your reputation may follow you for the remainder of your life, even if you choose to leave Vermont. This is because accusations of misconduct by educators are reported to other states. 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 provide your details online, and we will contact you.
Disciplinary Actions by Vermont Board of Education
The Vermont Board of Education and the Vermont Agency of Education may initiate charges against an educator. The Board may propose the following actions against a Vermont educator's license for engaging in unprofessional conduct or for a finding of incompetence:
- Revoke the educator's license.
- Suspend the educator's license.
- Restrict or prohibit the educator from renewing the license.
- Warn or reprimand the educator, privately or publicly.
- Place conditions upon the license to which the educator must comply.
- Investigate or gather information.
- Take other action the State Board finds to be appropriate for and consistent with the educator's behavior.
Vermont Statutes (V.S.A.), Title 16, Chapter 51 governs all disciplinary matters of educators.
Vermont Standards Board for Professional Educators
The Vermont Standards Board for Professional Educators (VSBPE) is a 13-member Board appointed by the Governor. The Board is made up of a majority of teachers and is also made up of administrators and members of the public. The VSBPE issues Rules for Licensing of Educators in Vermont. These Rules contain a Model Code of Ethics for educators.
Rules of Professional Conduct – Rule 5520
In addition to the Model Code of Ethics, the Vermont Board of Education provides the Manual of Rules and Practices, which contains a more specific and detailed summary of the rules of professional conduct. The following is a summary of some of the most significant Rules of Professional Conduct:
- A professional educator abides by all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
- A professional educator maintains a professional relationship with all learners and makes reasonable efforts to protect learners from conditions which are harmful to their health and safety. Unprofessional conduct includes:
- Committing any act of child abuse, including physical and/or emotional abuse.
- Committing any act of cruelty to children or endangering a child.
- Committing any sexual act with, or soliciting any sexual act from, any minor, or any elementary or secondary learner regardless of age.
- Committing any act of harassment.
- Soliciting, encouraging, or participating in a romantic or sexual relationship with a student.
- Using patently offensive language including, but not limited to, improper sexual comments.
- Taking patently offensive pictures (digital, photographic, or video) of learners.
- Patently improper contact with any minor or student, including through electronic media.
- Furnishing alcohol or illegal or unauthorized drugs to any student or allowing or encouraging a student to consume alcohol or illegal or unauthorized drugs.
- A professional educator refrains during the course of professional practice from the use of alcohol or drugs not prescribed for the educator's use. Unprofessional conduct includes, but is not limited to:
- Unlawful possession of a drug.
- Possessing, using, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs not prescribed for the educator's use when on school premises or at a school-sponsored activity.
- A professional educator models honesty and integrity in their professional practice.
- A professional educator exhibits a high level of honesty, accuracy, and responsibility with regard to public or school-related funds. Unprofessional conduct includes, but is not limited to:
- Misuse of public funds or failure to account for school-related funds or property.
- Using any school equipment for the purpose of gaining access to pornography.
- A professional educator maintains integrity with learners, colleagues, parents, and others regarding gifts and other favors.
- A professional educator complies with state and federal laws and regulations relating to the confidentiality of learner and employee records.
- A professional educator fulfills all of their obligations to learners. Unprofessional conduct includes, but is not limited to, the failure to provide appropriate supervision of learners at school or school-sponsored activities, or the failure to ensure the safety and well-being of learners.
- A professional educator complies with obligations to report alleged unprofessional conduct. Unprofessional conduct of an administrator includes, but is not limited to:
- The failure of a superintendent who has reasonable cause to believe an educator has engaged in unprofessional conduct to submit a written report to the Secretary.
- The failure of the principal, who submits to the Secretary a report of alleged unprofessional conduct, to submit it to his or her superintendent as well.
Conduct Which May Lead to Discipline
Vermont Code, Title 16, Chapter 51 governs the licensing and discipline of teachers in Vermont. The Vermont Agency on Education may act against the license of an educator for unprofessional conduct, including the conviction of certain crimes, or for incompetence.
- Unprofessional Conduct Unprofessional conduct under Chapter 51 includes:
- Grossly negligent conduct which puts students in “physical or emotional jeopardy” or shows “moral unfitness.” This conduct may occur on or off duty.
- Conviction of a crime which puts students in “physical or emotional jeopardy” or shows “moral unfitness.” Occurs on or off duty.
- Conviction of grand larceny or embezzlement
- Conviction involving fraud, dishonesty, or deceit.
- Willful misconduct in violation of duties of the position.
- Falsification or misrepresentation in license process.
- If a superintendent, the failure to maintain confidentiality or privilege.
- Incompetence The inability to perform the duties and competencies of an educator.
If any party reports or complains of unprofessional conduct or the incompetence of an educator in Vermont, the matter will proceed to an investigation, and potentially to charges and a hearing.
Stages of Investigation, Hearing, and Appeal
Step One: Initial Investigation
This Committee will hear an appeal of a licensing denial or any allegation of unprofessional conduct or incompetence. The Committee will have one or more licensed members, an investigator, and a prosecuting attorney. The Investigation Committee will make recommendations to the Secretary of Education.
After an initial review of the evidence or allegations, the Investigation Committee will recommend to the Secretary whether or not to proceed with a Formal Investigation.
Step Two: Formal Investigation
If the Investigation Committee or the Secretary determines that a formal investigation is warranted, the matter will proceed. At this point, the educator and superintendent in question will be informed of the formal investigation decision.
Recommendation of Investigation Committee
After completing the formal investigation, the Investigation Committee will make a recommendation to the Secretary on how to proceed. The Investigation Committee is allowed to consider whether the guidance it provides may mitigate the need for any additional licensing action.
At this point, the Secretary will decide whether the matter will proceed. For an initial licensing decision, the Secretary will affirm or deny the decision, and the licensee has the right to appeal within ten days. For allegations of unprofessional conduct or incompetence, the Secretary will determine whether to issue formal charges within ten days of the Committee's recommendation.
Step Three: Formal Charge
If the Secretary issues a formal charge, it will be served on the educator and the superintendent, and a hearing panel will be convened.
The Governor appoints those who sit on a larger panel, including seven teachers, four administrators, and three members of the public, for three-year terms. The Hearing Panel for individual cases is selected and will contain at least two teachers and one member of the public where a teacher is formally charged. If an administrator is formally charged, the panel will contain at least two administrators and one member of the public. VSBPE will appoint a Hearing Officer, who may subpoena witnesses, depose witnesses, and otherwise conduct the hearing. The Hearing Officer may make recommendations, but the Hearing Panel makes the decision.
Step Four: Hearing
The Hearing will occur 30-60 days after service of the formal charge. The educator will have the following rights at the Hearing:
- Right to appear in person.
- Right to be represented by counsel.
- Right to present witness testimony.
- Right to cross-examine hostile witnesses.
- Right to examine documents.
- Right to file a written defense.
- Access to the record of the Hearing.
In a case of denial of initial licensure, the applicant must prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence. In the case of charges of professional misconduct or incompetence, the Secretary must prove the charges by a preponderance of the evidence. In cases involving revocation of the license or a suspension of more than one year, the Secretary must prove the charges by clear and convincing evidence.
Step Five: Hearing Officer Proposed Decision
The Hearing Officer will make findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a recommendation for an order to the Hearing Panel.
Step Six: Hearing Panel Actions
The Hearing Panel may accept, reject, or modify the recommendations of the Hearing Officer.
- No action.
- Issue a warning.
- Issue a private reprimand.
- Issue a public reprimand.
- Place a condition on the license.
- Limit the license.
- Suspend the license.
- Revoke the license.
- Impose up to a $1,000 administrative penalty in the case of a warning or reprimand.
Step Seven: Appeal of Panel
An educator may appeal the hearing panel decision within ten days. An initial appeal to the appellate officer will address constitutional violations, errors of procedure or law, or whether the decision is arbitrary or an abuse of discretion. If the appellate officer fails to find any of these violations, the educator may appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Breaking a Teaching Contract
One additional issue that may arise in the context of educator misconduct is the failure of a teacher to complete a contracted term. If a teacher fails to complete the contracted term, they will be disqualified from teaching for the remainder of the school year. In cases of hardship, especially of a medical nature, consult legal counsel.
The Lento Law Firm Represents Teachers Throughout Vermont
The Lento Law Firm represents teachers in Burlington, South Burlington, Montpelier, Rutland, or any other area of Vermont. 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 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 provide your details online, and we will contact you.