Arizona Educator Misconduct Investigation Leads to 20-year Prison Sentence
An Arizona educator was recently sent to prison for 20 years after she was found guilty of sexual misconduct. Brittany Zamora, aged 28, had been accused of educator misconduct by sexually harassing a 13-year-old, attempting to molest the minor, and public sexual indecency. Evidence showed that Ms. Zamora had sexual encounters with the student in various places, including her car and the classroom. At some point, sexual harassment occurred in front of other students. The case brings into the limelight the nature of Arizona educator misconduct investigation proceedings and the different types of teacher misconduct.
As an Arizona educator, you will want to know that teachers fall in the “position of trust” category. Parents, coaches, step-parents, and clergy are also included in this group. It is also vital to add that Arizona educators have been investigated for sexual harassment more than any other type of misconduct. Statistics indicate that 40 teachers are investigated and disciplined annually for sexual misconduct, with the Arizona State Board of Education frequently revoking teaching certificates. However, it is possible to win your teacher misconduct case by working with a teacher license defense attorney.
Why Having an Arizona Teacher License Defense Attorney | Education Licensing Lawyer Is Vital
Educator liability is a crucial area of concern for all Arizona teachers. Although most cases are never as widely publicized and severe as Brittany Zamora’s, Arizona teacher misconduct rules are wide-reaching, meaning that you can be investigated for many issues. As someone in a position of trust, your life will be opened wide for all to see. However, you may first need to understand the examples of Arizona teacher misconduct before you can know whether your rights are being violated or not. An Arizona teacher license defense attorney/education licensing lawyer can guide you through this process.
Teacher Misconduct in Arizona
Teacher misconduct occurs in different ways depending on severity and harm to students. The issues often discussed in educator policies revolve around physical, racial, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse of the students in ways that cause direct or indirect harm. Teachers who follow the rules and guidelines in these school district policy handbooks are less likely to be investigated for misconduct.
It is vital to add that misconduct can relate to acts considered dangerous to the education profession. For example, the Arizona State Board of Education can view fabricating professional documentation, driving when drunk, cheating in an exam, committing assault, and committing a serious crime as educator misconduct. Nevertheless, misconduct will mostly occur and be investigated on campus or when interacting with school community members.
In addition, it is always good to remain cognizant of interactions involving stakeholders from different cultural backgrounds to avoid misunderstandings.
Teacher Misconduct Investigations: How Are They Conducted?
The Reporting of Educator Misconduct
When there is a potential teacher immoral or improper conduct case in Arizona, the complaints are first forwarded to the investigative unit of the Arizona State Board of Education. It is important to note that based on the H.B. 2023 Implementation Notice of September 2022, the Board can listen to cases involving certified and non-certificated educators. Formal complaints, such as those involving sexual harassment, are prepared under the Office of the Attorney General. The educator is then prosecuted under the law, and sanctions become permanent records.
In the non-formal cases, the Board takes charge based on Arizona Administrative Code (A.A.C.), Title 7, Chapter 2, Articles 7 and 13. Again, if you are a non-certified educator, the Board can still investigate you and take disciplinary action. Potential punishments for certified teachers are issuing a letter of censure, suspension, suspension with conditions, or certificate revocation. You can read more here:
The Investigations of Educator Misconduct
The Professionals Practices Advisory Committee (PPAC) investigates teacher misconduct cases in Arizona. The committee functions under the Arizona State Board of Education and listens to cases where educators are accused of immoral or improper conduct. There are nine members on the committee. Suppose you are summoned to face the PPAC for misconduct. You would present your case and then wait for findings of fact, conclusions based on the law, and any decision on whether to impose discipline.
When you work with a license defense attorney during a PPAC hearing, the representing counsel is allowed to present their findings of fact and conclusions based on the law to the committee. For example, through the findings of fact, the lawyer will explore each case point based on their comprehension of legal guidelines and the aggravating and mitigating factors privy to your case. When making conclusions based on the law, he/she will cite administrative codes or statutes regarding the Arizona State Board of Education’s capacity to make disciplinary recommendations.
Recommendations and Outcomes
The Board then makes recommendations based on findings from the PPAC hearings. It is at this juncture that you know your fate. The Arizona State Board of Education can accept, reject, or amend the initial ruling. If you wish to go further, you can contest the outcomes with your representing counsel.
Working with Chelle Law Attorneys
It has been shown in this guide that Arizona educators are often scrutinized for misconduct. Parents, guardians, and educational administrators will always watch what you do on and off campus. We want you to know that you always have a fighting chance if you work with a qualified teacher license defense attorney.
At Chelle Law Attorneys, the team is always ready to help you maneuver your Arizona educator misconduct investigation. Whether you have been accused of immoral or improper conduct, we can help you understand the facts of the case and prepare for your Board hearing. In addition, if you are undergoing some misconduct investigations, allow us to take charge by contacting us and giving us the green light to do what we know best.
Other Blogs of Interest
- What Happens When a Teacher is Under Investigation in Arizona?
- Arizona Teacher Abuse Investigations Explained
- How Long Does a School Investigation Take in Arizona?
Arizona Teacher Sexual Relationship with a Student
What are the issues if there’s ever an allegation of a teacher having a relationship of sexual nature with a student? So, the school would likely start there. If the school found a credible allegation of a sexual relationship, they’d likely immediately put the educator on administrative leave. If not, ask for the resignation or terminate them immediately. And when I say sexual relationship, I also include sexual abuse. So, these are very serious.
Sexual Relationship or Sexual Abuse with a Minor
The school is a mandated reporter, so they would likely immediately report this to local authorities or police. Also, police will be investigating this because it is a crime. The department of child services will likely investigate as well. Furthermore, they’ll report you to the State Board of Education. They’ll conduct their investigation if they think there’s a finding of any relationship of sexual nature or abuse with a minor. This can mean communications, physical, social media, or things like that. It is more of a broad term.
You want to be very careful understanding that. This is taken very seriously, of course, by all those administrative agencies. There would likely be a hearing at the state board level unless you decided or agreed to revoke your license. If not, they would conduct an administrative hearing with the Professional Practices Advisory Committee.
Teacher License Revocation
They would make a finding of fact and conclusions of law if they did think that there was a finding that there’s a relationship of sexual nature or abuse. According to the State Board of Education guidelines, the educator’s license would be revoked if there was any relationship or abuse. It’s serious because the offense is severe. And so, that’s normally where it would go. The Professional Practices Advisory Committee would then take their findings to the State Board of Education. And they would likely either affirm, deny, or amend their findings. Again, you will probably go to an administrative hearing at the state level if you disagree with the discipline.
Victim, Parents, and Staff Interview
At the school level, people would likely ask you to resign or terminate you. The investigation starting at the school level would involve an interview with the victim or all the students involved. Maybe the alleged victim parents, family, and staff. They would go through communications that you allegedly had with the victim. And they might even look at video or audio evidence.
Examples of Arizona Teacher Misconduct
What are the different types of teacher misconduct within the state of Arizona? I’m mainly speaking about educators K-12 and the public school setting here in Arizona, also charter schools in some private schools. So, what is teacher misconduct? I think the easiest way to define this is to have you look at your employment contract. Sometimes it specifies it there. Any teacher handbook or policies within your school will likely spell out just about every scenario you can. They can’t deal with students, staff, and parents outside school. And so, if you follow those policies and understand them clearly, you follow them. You will not likely be considered to have done anything that would be misconduct.
Again, I would start with your employment contract handbook or anything the school provided you that explains it. You also can look at the state board of education here in Arizona. They have regulations on what is unprofessional conduct, what is misconduct, and what you can and can’t do with students. And the list goes on from there. So, those are the first two places to look for examples. I would also say misconduct would be anything that threatens the health and safety of the students. That’s the school’s number one priority, as it should be. And so, anything that threatens their safety or security is misconduct.
Suppose any of the following:
- Sexual abuse
Anything like that. That’s misconduct.
Look at School Policy For Misconduct Information
It gets a little confusing when there are interactions with parents about students’ cultural differences. Then the area might get a little gray. But again, I would look at the school’s policies to see if they have guidelines on this type of communication. Or actions and if that falls within the misconduct range. Another thing teachers forget to consider is that misconduct can also be with other staff. Examples of that may be different types of verbal interactions. It could be sexual harassment. Those are forms of misconduct. And even going further than that, actions outside of school can also be misconduct by a teacher. The most common examples I would say are a DUI, domestic violence, and arrest assault.
I mean, the list goes on from there. But suppose you’re committing severe crimes or arrested outside the classroom, even on time. In that case, it’s still misconduct. So, you want to be careful. I know it’s hard being an educator. You always want to do your best, but you want to ensure you’re familiar.
Advantages of Being Familiar With School Policies
I keep saying this, but you’re familiar with all the school’s policies on what you can and can’t do in the classroom. That way, there are no surprises. Suppose a school thinks you have done something classified as misconduct. Then, they’re likely to open an investigation. They’ll give you notice of this. And then you’re likely put on administrative leave. It can be paid or unpaid. Then, the school will investigate whether this misconduct affects student safety or security.
If they find that it rose to the level of misconduct, they may ask for you to resign as a teacher. It may terminate you. It may wait until the end of the school year; they may report the news immediately. It depends. There’s a scale. Also, schools are mandated reporters, so especially if it’s anything about a student, they are very likely to report you to the state board of education. So, there may be an investigation for your license. Local authorities, that’s local police departments, may open an investigation. And then also the department of child services may be notified and investigated. Again, misconduct is a scale. There are mitigating circumstances around it.
Call an Attorney for More Information
So, you want to be very careful handling it if there are any misconduct allegations. I always recommend advising an attorney. Suppose you do not have one to represent you during the whole process with the school. Then, protect yourself, and know your rights and what you can and can’t do.
Can Arizona Teachers Be Disciplined for Social Media?
Can a teacher receive discipline for social media? This is a great question; I would say it’s relevant currently. First, let’s start at the school levels. Suppose a teacher, and I’m talking about public education, charter schools K-12. When you become employed with your school, they typically hand you a policy handbook. I’d say 99% of schools will have a policy on social media. And it will say what you can and can’t do and who you can and can’t communicate with. From my experience, it’s normal that you can’t identify any students. Sometimes schools and policies talk about who you can and cannot communicate with through social media. If you are communicating with students, sometimes that’s just a violation of the policy. Therefore you’re likely to be disciplined by your school.
State Board of Education Disciplinary Actions
This may mean that they place you on administrative leave and you could be terminated. But all those things are disciplines that the school could hand down. This is just for communication. Again, read your policy carefully to ensure staying within the school’s lines. However, if there’s any inappropriate communication with students, it will be considered immoral or unprofessional conduct. And then the school will probably have to take it even further. School districts are mandated reporters. That said, if there’s any reasonable accusation, they can go ahead and report you to the State Board of Education.
They may investigate your license, especially if it’s emotional or discussing physical or sexual abuse. They will report you to the police or local law enforcement agency and child protective services. So, it’s serious. But this is all talking about communications directly with the students. If you’re posting something online, maybe you appear impaired by drugs or alcohol. If it appears that you’re at work, that’s also immoral, unprofessional conduct. And again, they will report you to the board of education and open an investigation.
It depends on the circumstances. But if the school finds anything they are mandated to report, that will automatically happen at the state board level. They may open an investigation and always refer to that student handbook if there is communication. At the state level, they’re going to look and see if this will be considered immoral or unprofessional conduct. Does your interaction or post reasonable that you did endanger students’ health or safety or well-being? If the answer is yes, they will likely have you disciplined at the state board level.
They have guidelines for the discipline they may hand out, anywhere from a letter of censure, suspension, or suspension with conditions. Then there’s also revocation, which means they will revoke your license. So, it is serious. Currently, there is some talk of guidelines for social media at the board of education at the state level. But there are no current regulations.
Though again, unprofessional or immoral conduct is a catchall. It’s a very general phrase. And if they feel like you are, in any way, endangering the health, safety, or well-being of a minor. Then it is likely that they’re going to open an investigation, and there could be potential discipline. So, you want to be careful on your social media. Check your school’s policy because it will comply with the State Board of Education, or it will likely. If you follow that, then you should be okay. Still, make sure to watch everything you post and ensure it’s not harming your students in any way.
Arizona Reporting of Teacher Criminal Convictions
What are the criminal reporting requirements for teachers in Arizona? If a teacher in Arizona holds a license who teaches at a public school, private school, or charter school. I’m speaking to grades K-12. Suppose you teach any of those grades and receive a conviction of criminal charges. In that case, the court will report your conviction to the State Board of Education. They’ll hand over any of their findings of:
- Conclusions of law
- Anything that led up to your conviction
It is a requirement by Arizona Revised Statute 13-3990.
Educators Background Check Laws in Teaching
The court clerk will hand over those documents to the State Board of Education for any conviction. So, this is important to remember as an educator. Suppose this happens and is passed over to the State Board of Education. In that case, it may be an act of unprofessional or immoral conduct. That is especially anything having to do with a minor:
- If they’re a victim of the crime
- They get into danger or any child abuse or violent substance abuse
All of which would likely go under investigation by the State Board of Education.
It’s essential to report it yourself as well, but know that if there’s a conviction in Arizona, the court will send it directly to the State Board of Education. Suppose you receive a sentence for a criminal act outside of the state. Then, you would want to look at those state laws and maybe do some research, but you’ll likely have to self-report anyway.
So, keep that in mind in the future. And then also, as I said, if the State Board of Education does consider it potentially unprofessional or immoral conduct, they’ll open an investigation. There are discipline guidelines for immoral or unprofessional conduct. You can negotiate a settlement and agree on the discipline, the findings of facts, and conclusions of law. Or if you decide you want to take it to a hearing with the Professional Practices Advisory Committee. So, the takeaway from all these things is getting a conviction for a criminal act within Arizona. The court will forward all that information to the State Board of Education. An investigation will likely proceed with those findings.
So, just keep that in mind in the future. And then also, as I said, if the State Board of Education does consider it potentially unprofessional or immoral conduct, they’ll open an investigation. There are discipline guidelines for the type of immoral or unprofessional conduct. You can either negotiate a settlement and agree on the discipline, the findings of facts, and conclusions of law, or if you decide you want to take it to a hearing with the Professional Practices Advisory Committee. So, all of these things, the takeaway from this to remember is if you are ever convicted of a crime within the state of Arizona, that court will forward all that information to the State Board of Education, and it’s likely that an investigation will proceed those findings.
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