Teacher Rights Before the Educational Professional Standards Board
All teacher licensing matters are controlled by the EPSB in Frankfort. This agency requires all school districts to report cases of teacher misconduct, real or suspected, so that it can perform its oversight functions. Unfortunately this causes JCPS and other districts to forward virtually any complaint, investigation, minor discipline or student report to the agency in order to meet this requirement. As a result, a multitude of minor classroom, student and personnel issues end up before the agency. Once received, most of these events are set up into a file and the teacher receives a letter, notifying them and requesting a “rebuttal” within 30 days. This is nothing more than providing the teacher an opportunity to tell their side of the story during the preliminary investigation.
The matter is then submitted to Board members for review and action. A small percentage of cases are resolved at this level through outright dismissal, a request that the teacher undergo some additional continuing education training or by issuing an admonishment. The admonishment is essentially a written warning to be careful not to engage in any future similar conduct. Teachers do not have to accept the admonishment, if they feel it is unwarranted, and can reject it, which means that the case will be processed further.
The larger number of cases are referred by the Board for a “hearing.” When this notice arrives to the teacher, it suggests that the Board is going to engage in serious legal action, yet at this stage it is nothing more than a referral to the EPSB legal staff for further review and processing. A staff lawyer will attempt to negotiate a resolution of the matter by sending a settlement proposal. These proposals usually involve a range of remedies which can include admonishment, additional training, probationary periods and, in some cases, short periods of license suspension. Our office represents the teacher through this process in an effort to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the Board can initiate disciplinary charges against the teacher’s license, schedule a hearing before an administrative hearing officer and attempt to prove misconduct and appropriate sanctions.
Our office takes these cases very seriously as they are frightening to teachers who find themselves in front of the Standards Board, often for routine and minor occurrences that have no justification for such scrutiny. Once we are authorized by the KEA Legal Services Plan, we go into action to develop a complete, comprehensive rebuttal statement in an effort to educate the Board about the teacher’s career, accomplishments, contribution to her school and the background circumstances – in the classroom and with the involved student or administrator – that are necessary to a complete understanding of the situation. If these efforts are not successful in getting the case dismissed upon initial review, we are aggressive in negotiating settlements with minimum requirements that do not injure the teacher’s career or reputation. Where settlement cannot be reached, we make it clear that we are prepared to go to a hearing on behalf of the teacher to exonerate them from any charges of misconduct. A very high percentage of these cases are settled through this negotiation process and actual hearings are rare.
We emphasize to our teacher’s, from the very beginning, that they have full due process legal protections. The EPSB cannot act unilaterally to suspend a teacher’s license except in emergency cases of extreme misconduct. Very rarely do we recommend to our teachers that they accept a license suspension for mistakes that may have been made.
The KEA Legal Services plan provides complete legal services, at no charge, for teachers to assure that their careers are not impaired as a result of actions taken by the EPSB. Any teacher that receives a letter from the EPSB, whether in Jefferson County or any other district in the state, should immediately contact their KBA UniServe director and process the necessary paperwork to have legal services provided under the KBA plan. Once legal services are authorized, we will immediately begin working with the teacher to navigate through the Standards Board process.
For those teachers that are not members of KEA, contact our office about making private fee arrangements for the same services.