As a teacher, you are responsible for educating the future generation, and for such an important job, you want to ensure you can continue doing what you love. Do not let allegations of any kind threaten your Washington State teaching license. If you find yourself in conflict with the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board, make sure you give yourself the best resources possible by hiring the experienced Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. Contact us today or call 888-535-3686 so that our team of experienced attorneys can fight tirelessly for you.
Code of Professional Conduct
The Office of Professional Practices, a subdivision of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, oversees all violations of the Washington State Code of Professional Conduct for Education Practitioners. Aside from overseeing professional conduct, the office ensures that educators do not lack good moral character or personal fitness, per the Washington Administrative Code.
The Code of Professional Conduct seeks to
- Protect the students of Washington State.
- Guarantee to the citizens that educational practitioners are held responsible for their misconduct.
- Clearly define and inform teachers of accused violations.
Education Practitioner Definition
Anyone who holds a position that requires certification per Title 181 of the Washington Administrative Code is considered an educational practitioner. Additionally, educational practitioners are not held to the code with regard to private conduct. It is only when the line between private and professional conduct is indistinguishable that the details of the code become applicable.
The Washington Administrative Code defines a student as anyone " under the supervision, direction, or control of the education practitioner.” Students may be enrolled in any school in the same district as the practitioner. Additionally, if the student is enrolled in an entirely different school district, but the event in question involves the practitioner performing any professional duties, then the parties are viewed as a student and practitioner.
If the superintendent of the school district has sufficient information to believe that an employee in their respective teaching environment has performed an act of unprofessional conduct or lacked good moral character or personal fitness, they will file a written form to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Once the Office receives the complaint, they will perform their own investigations into the matter.
Acts of Unprofessional Conduct
This next part of the code lays out the actions that are viewed as unprofessional conduct. The potential violations are varied, but they all can lead to the derailing of your career. Accusations of misconduct can also result in severe sanctions that are often too harsh or inappropriate for your case. This is why it is so crucial that you have an experienced team of License Defense Attorneys on your side. The Lento Law Firm will provide you with a defense that highlights their many years of experience defending those with professional teaching licenses. They will work with the school, negotiating to reach the best possible outcome for your future and your career as an education professional.
Misrepresentation or falsification in the course of professional practice
Any misrepresentation or falsification of the following is considered unprofessional conduct:
- Statement of Qualifications
- Letter of recommendation or endorsements
- Grant-in-aid, academic award, or any similar benefit
- Letter of completing continuing education credit hours
- Student Grading Evaluations
- Financial/program compliance reports
- Past violations of the Code of Professional Conduct
- Past violations of school-related criminal activity
- Certification assessments
Assisting another educational practitioner with the misrepresentation or falsification of any of these documents or credentials is also prohibited.
Alcohol or controlled substance abuse
Violations of Professional Misconduct include:
- Being under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or a controlled substance after being previously informed of their compromised job performance and potential counseling options available.
- Possession, use, or consumption of a Schedule 1 or 2 controlled substance on school grounds or at school-sponsored events.
- Consumption of alcohol in school when it is against the written policy of the school district.
- Possession of marijuana or marijuana-infused products on school grounds if it is against Washington Law or the written policy of the school district.
- Use or consumption of marijuana or marijuana-infused products on school property.
- Providing alcohol or any controlled substance to students.
Disregard or abandonment of generally recognized professional standards
Professional misconduct includes ignoring or clearly disregarding the following professional practices:
- Teaching, Supervising, or Assessment of Students
- Employment or appraisal of employees
- Governance of money or property
- Employment Contract
- Professional Service Contract
Any inappropriate communication with another student via “cell phone, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging, or other social media or social network communication” is considered in violation of the code. These instances are assessed based on a variety of factors, including:
- The nature/subject matter of communication
- Whether the communication was made open or concealed
- If the communication could be viewed as sexual in nature
Unauthorized professional practice
In the event that an educational practitioner hires an employee without the required certification, with an expired license, it will be considered an act of unprofessional practice. Moreover, pressuring students to purchase supplies/services from an educational practitioner privately, failing to ensure the transfer of student records, or failing to file a complaint against another educational practitioner are all acts of misconduct.
Any act sexual in nature involving a student is considered unprofessional conduct. The only exception to this is if, at the time of commissioning, the educational practitioner and the student were married. If that is not the case, then any of these instances, or others that are sexually exploitive, are prohibited:
- Sexual advances of any kind
- Sexual intercourse
- Sexual Contact
- Sexual Grooming
Good moral character and personal fitness
The Professional Code of Conduct expects its practitioners to “be certificated employee[s] in schools in the state of Washington, including character and personal fitness to have contact with, to teach, and to perform supervision of children.”
General examples of violations of morals and fitness are:
- Convictions in the last ten years that would impair the educational practitioner's ability to “serve as a professional within the public and private schools of the state.”
- Behavioral problems that jeopardize students, colleagues, or other educational practitioners
- Practicing in the State of Washington with an expired, suspended, revoked, or falsified teaching verification
- Any conviction or guilty plea to a felony crime, including but not limited to:
- Physical neglect, injury, or death of a child
- Sexual exploitation of a child
- Sex trafficking of minors
- Indecent exposure
In the case of non-felony convictions within the last ten years, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will consider a variety of relevant factors to determine whether the conviction “materially and substantially impair[s] the individual's worthiness and ability to serve as a professional within the public and private schools of the state.” These factors include:
- Age at the time of the conviction
- Criminal motivation
- Seriousness of the act
- Harm inflicted
- Overall criminal history
The office may also consider additional evidence supporting the practitioner's good character when determining the implications of past convictions.
When a practitioner is found guilty of any of the previously mentioned violations, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is responsible for determining any resulting disciplinary actions. These disciplinary actions can be excessively harsh and significantly hinder your career. Actions include:
- Order of Dismissal: The Office dismisses the case without any prejudice.
- Order of Reprimand: The Office orders not to repeat previous violations or lack good morals/fitness.
- Order of Suspension: The Office suspends certification for a predetermined amount of time. It can include requirements that must be fulfilled before certification will be reinstated.
- Order of Revocation: The Office orders to revoke the teaching certification.
- Voluntary Surrender: The practitioner voluntarily gives up certification because they believe they are not fit to hold it.
- Denial Order: The office orders for the certification to be revoked and cannot be reapplied indefinitely.
Burden and Standard of Proof
When applying for certification, or recertification, when you are initially denied due to a lack of good moral character or fitness, you must provide “clear and convincing evidence” that you do in fact hold good moral character and fitness, or you will be denied. Suppose the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction proceeds with a suspension or revocation proceeding. In this case, the superintendent must show that you either lack moral character and fitness or that you are violating the code of professional conduct. All other proceedings must have enough evidence to prove that the violation is more likely than not verifiable.
If you seek certification, certificate reinstatement, or certificate renewal through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and are denied or previously received a disciplinary order, you are entitled to an appeal. The only exception is when you have received an Order of Revocation, in which case you may not apply for an appeal until twelve months after the order date. In all other cases, the appeal procedure consists of two levels: informal and formal. Even if you have not yet sought legal counsel, it is not too late to turn things around at this point. The Lento Law Firm Team will create the most robust rebuttal for your situation.
Informal SPI Review
When choosing to appeal a decision, a written notice must be sent to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction within thirty calendar days. This notice must explain why the applicant deems the original decision incorrect. Upon receiving the appeal, the superintendent selects a review officer to perform his own examination. If the case does not involve “good moral character, personal fitness, or unprofessional conduct,” the review officer performs an initial investigation, and they are granted the right to request additional documents, schedule an informal meeting with the appellant, or speak with any other additional parties they deem fit. Moreover, if the case involves “good moral character, personal fitness, or acts of unprofessional conduct, " the review officer may schedule informal meetings with the appellant, the office of the superintendent of public instruction, the council for the applicant, and the admissions and professional conduct committees. The reviewing officer will send their written decision by mail, stating whether they decided to uphold, reverse, or modify the original decision.
Formal SPI Review
If the appellant, for any reason, is not satisfied with the review officer's decision, they may proceed with the Formal SPI Review. Their case and the review officer's judgment will then be formally reviewed by the superintendent of public instruction. The superintendent then conducts a formal administrative hearing that may also involve the Office of Administrative Hearings. For this to happen, a written notice must be filed within thirty days of the reviewing officer's decision. Following the hearing, the appellant will receive a written finding that states whether the decision is upheld, altered, or reversed.
Public Notice and Report
If your license has been ruled to be suspended, surrendered, revoked, or you lacked good moral character or personal fitness in the eyes of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, then they are required to notify all relevant places in the state of Washington. This includes sharing your full name and certificate number. A decision like this would shatter your career, forcing you to pick up the pieces. You need an experienced Teaching License Defense to negotiate on your behalf.
How the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team Can Help
You may be facing board investigations or potential actions on your license for a number of infractions or even false accusations. Regardless of your specific situation, the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm understand the importance of supporting educational professionals and have the unique experience necessary for crafting the best possible cases. Contact us today or call 888-535-3686 so that we can preserve your future.