Teachers wear many hats and have grave responsibilities for their students. They teach students academic and practical subjects, help prepare them to become independent and responsible individuals and citizens, serve as role models, listen to their problems and make suggestions, broaden their horizons and guide them. Nevertheless, not all teachers live up to their responsibilities. Unfortunately, at times some act inappropriately and are charged with “misconduct.” At other times, teachers are wrongfully accused or sanctioned too severely for the misconduct. Teachers should not take misconduct lightly. A charge of misconduct may result in serious sanctions, including termination, and carry long term negative consequences for a teacher.
Teacher misconduct is often defined broadly by state law and typically includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- The possession, transportation, or selling of regulated substances of illegal drugs or wrongful use of prescription drugs;
- Any behavior of sexual, abusive, neglectful, or improper nature between a teacher and child;
- Any willful or unlawful use of school money or property;
- Any manipulation or alternation of official professional documentation (i.e. a certificate or license) in order to secure better employment, promotion, or salary;
- Commissioning or participating in illegal acts on school property or during school events;
- And any relations of a sexual or romantic nature between a teacher and child.
If an educator is accused of misconduct on the job, a local Board of Education, Director of Schools, principal or other school system administrators may propose or impose a sanction. Some alleged misconduct – for instance, telling students answers to a standardized test – may result in the State attempting to suspend or revoke a teacher’s teaching license. When the alleged misconduct also violates criminal laws, a teacher faces potential criminal liability: jail and fines. If the alleged misconduct affects a particular student, for instance, the teacher beat or engaged in a sexual act with a student, a teacher may also face a civil suit or a suit seeking money damages from the teacher or school district.
Most allegations of misconduct by a teacher however result in a local Board of Education, administrators or principals doing a limited inquiry. If they believe the teacher engaged in misconduct, a record of the misconduct is made and a proposed sanction is ordinarily offered to the teacher and placed in his or her file. School officials may issue a verbal or written warning, a formal or informal reprimand, or a principal may consult with the Central Administrative Office, Human Resources, or the school district’s lawyer and propose another sanction or punishment.
A Board of Education may note the incident in a teacher’s file, issue a warning, reprimand a teacher, dock a teacher’s pay, place him or her on administrative leave, suspend a teacher for a certain period, require the teacher to take certain courses, or report the teacher to the State licensing board. In addition to the punishments meted out by the local Board of Education, the State licensing board can suspend or revoke a teacher’s license. Without a license, a teacher cannot be hired as a teacher. A state licensing board’s action against a teacher’s license carries serious ramifications. The actions by licensing boards are public. Once a teacher’s license is suspended or revoked, then other prospective schools can easily access it. As a result, the teacher will probably find it difficult to obtain another teaching job.
Many local Boards of Education have a policy of progressive discipline. Or the disciplinary action takes into account prior instances of misconduct, which serves to increase the sanction for the next offense. Every local Board and State may have its own set of rules and guidelines for disciplining teachers. If the teacher’s actions harm a child or implicate criminal laws, a teacher may face both a civil suit and criminal charges.
A teacher should not lightly or casually accept an accusation or finding of wrongdoing against him or her. Yet, some teachers too easily accept the proposed sanction or punishment, not fully appreciating the repercussions that may follow. Depending upon the nature of the accusation, you may be entitled to a formal hearing or an informal conference with the administrator(s) or a board to rebut and refute the charges. Thereafter, you may have the right to appeal that decision administratively. Usually, after going through the local Board’s or State licensing board’s processes, you may be able to contest in court the actions or sanctions in the courts. A civil suit or a criminal charge however are separate proceedings unrelated to licensing or action by a local Board.
Remember, not every teacher accusation of misconduct is valid. Even if an accusation is valid, the sanctions offered to resolve it may be too stiff or carry consequences that are too severe. Teachers have rights and remedies. If you are a teacher and are accused of misconduct, consider exploring your options with a lawyer and do not lightly accept any punishment suggested by the local Board or administration. You have rights and legal remedies available to you. For more information, contact Education Law attorney Perry A. Craft. He will guide you through the process, explain your options, and fight to protect you and your career. Call 615-551-5490 or fill out our contact form to learn more.