Defending Your Teaching Credential
Learn more about the process for defending one's teaching or education administration credential in the state of California.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing ("CTC") is again on the warpath. Whether it be teachers or education and school administrators, CTC is increasing its scrutiny on its licensees.
Some of this is necessary and proper. Changes in law and culture have all but eliminated, " go away quietly" agreements of the 1980s and 1990s. Misconduct and complaints are now thoroughly documented, competently investigated, and cross-reported where necessary. Moreover, increased public awareness in student safety, be it protection from fears of sexual predators, school violence/shootings, as well as physical and mental health, has all increased public awareness of reporting school-related-misconduct. As such, school districts and their counsels are hypersensitive and vigilant about documenting and reporting everything.
However, unrelated bad behavior is also getting increasingly absorbed into this hypersensitivity. Unrelated bad or criminal acts, as well as communications on social media and participation in groups or associations, are now causing investigations as well.
So, it is important that educator-licensees understand their rights and the procedure they will flow through in the event their conduct is investigated for purposes of discipline on their credential. A handy flowchart is provided by CTC of the educator disciplinary process.
Letter of Inquiry
The CTC sends allegations of educator misconduct to the California Committee of Credentials ("Committee"), which is a seven (7)-member disciplinary review board. The committee members, comprised of former teachers, administrators, and Board members, assemble in a conference room and meets every month for 3-4 days. The Committee reviews allegations of misconduct, including but not limited to, immoral and unprofessional conduct, as well as evident unfitness for service.
Ultimately, they are who decide whether cause exists for an "adverse action" against the educator's credential. "Adverse action," includes public or private admonition, suspension, probation, or revocation of the credential. A further breakdown on adverse actions with the CTC can be found here.
However, before reaching that decision, the Committee typically conducts an investigation. This typically starts with a letter to the educator inquiring about the incident of misconduct. Some of the "incidents of misconduct," that triggers the Committee to investigate are self-evident, such as allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal activity. However, the more additional circumstances include: 1) an affidavit/declaration signed by a person with personal knowledge of alleged misconduct; or 2) notification from a school district that a credential holder is dismissed, non-reelected, resigns, or is suspended or placed on unpaid administrative leave, or, is otherwise terminated by decision not to employ or reemploy; as a result of an allegation of misconduct or while an allegation of misconduct is pending. (See 5 CCR § 80303 (a).).
Filing a Response
Surprisingly, this first step is what triggers the most important step in the process--the response.
The educator typically has 30-days to respond. The letter of inquiry typically identifies things it is demanding to receive from the educator. And if the educator solely complies with that list, they are missing out on an opportunity to influence the Committee.
First and foremost, obtain a complete copy of the investigative file as of the time of the letter of inquiry. You have that right. This will include all documentation forwarded to CTC as well as a Confidential Investigative Report, which is the Commission's summary of the information they received. This will provide a road-map of what the Committee is investigating, and perhaps what they find important. Then you can see what it is that you need to confront in your response.
Second, cause for an adverse action must meet legal criterion. Specifically, the CTC cannot take an "adverse action" unless they determine that the credential holder is, unfit to "perform the duties authorized by the credential." The criteria to determine fitness to teach is set forth in Morrison v. State Board of Education (1969) 1 Cal. 3d. 214, including (see also 5 CCR § 80302):
likelihood of reoccurrence of the questioned conduct;
extenuating or aggravating circumstances;
effect of notoriety and publicity;
impairment of the student-teacher relationship;
disruption of the educational process;
proximity or remoteness in time of the conduct.
Third, compile relevant evidence of rehabilitation, mitigation, and good character to confront the allegations and evidence against you. This should be targeted to alleged misconduct and basis for the adverse action. The educator should also review CTC's disciplinary guidelines for further understanding of how the allegation relates to the credential.
While doing so, one must be mindful that the Committee is already stretched beyond their means. The Committee is inundated with reports and supporting information. As such, your response should be specific to the investigative reports while considering the Committee's decision-making criteria.
You required statement should be concise and specific. Includes dates, times, locations, and names of witnesses. It should be in the form of a declaration, signed under penalty of perjury.
Notice of Committee Recommendation
After reviewing the response from the teacher, the Committee of Credentials of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing will issue a Notice of Committee Recommendation. This Notice will either (1) inform the educator that the matter is being recommended for dismissal or (2) inform the educator that the matter is being recommended for an adverse action and include what form of adverse action it will be recommending.
After receiving the Notice, the educator has 30 calendar days to submit a written request for either reconsideration of the recommendation based upon new and relevant information for the Committee, or to request an administrative hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings before an administrative law judge to defend the teaching credential.
Rarely, the Committee chooses an alternative pathway. It may notify you that the matter has been scheduled for formal review. The formal review process will allow you to submit additional, perhaps improved, responses and supporting documents. You will be given the date and opportunity to request to appear. No continuances are permitted.
Unlike appearances on petitions or matters before other agencies, boards, bureaus, or committees, getting selected for the formal review is not a hint, one way or the other, as to how the matter will proceed. If anything, it implies that the Committee is deadlocked or confused about a particular issue. If it is a slam-dunk adverse action or dismissal, you will be notified by way of the aforementioned Notice of Committee Recommendation.
The educator has a right to have an attorney or advocate present, however, the presentation of the educator's case is handled by the educator. Instead, the attorney or advocate can offer support and help guide or clarify the Committee's questioning. The educator is given an opportunity to make a 3 minute opening and closing statement. In between, the Committee members take turns asking specific questions.
If the discipline proposed by the Notice of Committee Recommendation or after Formal Review is not acceptable or unduly harsh, teachers will usually request an administrative hearing to defend their teaching credential. An administrative hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings is held before an impartial, neutral administrative law judge.
These hearings are just like a court trial. A deputy attorney general from the California Department of Justice represents the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. A court reporter makes a stenographic record of the event. Exhibits are introduced, witnesses are questioned (including the teacher) and legal arguments are made.
After the hearing, the administrative law judge issues a proposed decision to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. In most cases, the proposed decision becomes the final decision. The educator is given a short, 30-day window to petition for reconsideration before the final decision becomes effective. Thereafter, the educator can only seek further relief by way of petition for a writ of administrative mandate in a Superior Court of California.