Society has set high standards for teachers. At times, however, a complaint is leveled against a teacher, asserting that his or her conduct was improper or unlawful and violated policies or rules set by the school district, the board of education, and/or state or federal law. The teacher’s actions are investigated by the school district or the State. Teachers may be investigated and/or suspended with or without pay for striking a student, uttering profanity or inappropriate remarks, having an improper relationship with a student, wrongly helping students on standardized tests, engaging in unprofessional conduct, and more.
Teachers often will accept a proverbial slap on the wrist to resolve the issue, assuming that the apparent minor sanction will end the dispute. Unfortunately, that assumption often proves incorrect. Here is why:
First, some school districts have established a policy of “progressive discipline.” Under that regime, punishments or sanctions for a second and subsequent offense are treated more harshly than a first-time sanction. Often, unbeknownst to the teacher, one or more subsequent violations, even minor ones, may carry harsh consequences.
Second, school districts report substantial violations to the State. For instance, the State often encounters cases where the teacher prevented students from participating in activities or getting any advantages because of their race, nationality, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, gender, or sexuality; abused his or her authority; is convicted of certain crimes; commits a drug-related offense; possesses or consumes alcohol or illegal drugs; falsifies documentation; or engages in inappropriate conduct, including sexual misconduct with a minor or student. This list is not exhaustive, however.
Regardless of the discipline, if any, imposed by the local school district, the State may initiate proceedings to suspend or revoke a teacher’s license. Without a teacher’s license, a teacher cannot teach or earn a livelihood in the field in which he or she has invested his or her time, money, and talents. Moreover, even if a teacher’s license is suspended at all, the teacher may find it difficult to land employment. School districts regularly check to ensure that applicants are licensed and in good standing before offering them employment, and the fact of a “suspension” may cause a school district not to hire a teacher.
When a complaint is lodged against a teacher, often without warning or notice, a teacher may be summoned to meet with administrators and/or other teachers, who often already have heard the complainer’s version of the story and perhaps checked on the facts. Unprepared, the teacher may be blindsided. The administrators seldom are trained investigators and may leap to unwarranted conclusions before hearing all sides of the dispute.
Before a teacher’s license can be suspended or revoked (especially in public schools), procedures and rules have to be followed. The report of alleged misconduct and license suspension or revocation is sent to the Tennessee State Board of Education, which then will set a hearing if the teacher requests a hearing. The matter is heard by an administrative law judge, but the State may appeal that ruling. If the Board suspends or revokes the license, notice of that suspension or revocation is placed on a nationwide database, run by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification.
When the charges against a teacher are very serious –for example, an alleged sexual relationship with a student – law enforcement will investigate and conduct the interview after gathering evidence. Thus, for some actions, not only may a teacher have his or her license revoked, he or she also may lose his or her teacher’s license altogether and face criminal charges in the courts.
As a result, the consequences for a teacher who has his or her license suspended are grave. An educator with a suspended or revoked license can request and attend a hearing and appeal to the courts.
If you are a teacher and are facing any possible sanction, hearing, or punishment, talk to a lawyer. You have rights. If you have questions or concerns about America’s and Tennessee’s education laws, talk to a lawyer. For more information, to have your questions answered, and to have your concerns addressed, contact Nashville Education Attorney Perry A. Craft.