What Happens When an Arizona Teacher is Under Investigation?
What happens when an Arizona teacher is under investigation by their school district?
I am speaking about the public education system here in Arizona. But it is a very similar process for charter schools, and it can also be for other private schools.
I will go through a general overview of what happens when a teacher is investigated for misconduct. So typically, it starts with notifying the teacher that they are under investigation. The school will then let you know what you’re under investigation. Something having to do with the student, other staff, teachers, parents, or maybe something outside that happened.
If the Students Are at Risk
But if they feel the students are at risk or you may be impaired, they’ll start the investigation and let you know. Once the inspection begins, the school will put the teacher on administrative leave. It’s been my experience that the school will pay for it.
It may be unpaid, but you’re on break if it’s egregious. And what that means typically is that the school will send you home. You’re not to usually contact the school district or anybody in the school. I take that back. There’s typically one contact for you. If you have any issues or questions, you can contact that person. But other than that, you’re not to talk to anyone, including students. And so, when you’re on administrative leave, the school will investigate.
They’ll typically speak to students if they are involved. Parents or just any of the parties get their side of the story. They may also ask to interview you as well. And there, you’ll state your side of the story and all the circumstances around it. They also may look for evidence through videos, emails, and anything written. They will go through the content and try to get a good picture of this situation.
Employer Conditions for Teacher Misconduct
After all of that’s done, they’ve conducted their investigation. They’ve met with you then as a teacher and will go ahead and decide. So, there are lots of different options for how this can work.
Sometimes they’ll say you can remain on administrative leave until the end of the school year. And we will accept your resignation. My experience supposes a teacher is under investigation and is not super serious. Most times, they’ll say, we’ll take your resignation. So, you’ll finish your school year, and you guys can go your separate ways.
If the degree is super egregious, they may terminate their contract with you. Then you’re done with your employment with them. Sometimes there can be hybrids like you’ll finish the rest of the year on administrative leave and maybe start at the new school year. So it just depends on the situation.
If it has to do with student safety and other staff, it’s fact sensitive. After conducting their investigation, they’ll let you know if you’re coming back.
Then there is what most people think is done and over with, but it’s not. Your school board or district may report you to your licensing board, or they may file a formal complaint. And so that will spark a whole investigation with the Arizona State Board of Education.
Child Safety and Protective Services
If it’s about the safety or well-being of a child, one may consider the school board or district as mandated reporters. And must report you to the police and child protective services. So, you want to be careful when the investigation process starts.
I recommend advising lawyers, helping them, or having them help you throughout the whole process because it can be very stressful. Especially when you’re in a situation where you can’t reach back out to the school district, and you’re trying to get your school supplies or know what you can and can’t do. And to stop any further investigations with the licensing board, as I said, police, and child protective services.
So that’s a broad overview of what happens during an investigation. As I said, I recommend advising an attorney here at Chelle Law. We are very familiar with this process and help teachers daily. I was an educator for eight years before becoming an attorney. So again, we are very familiar with this process and working with Arizona’s school districts in the public and charter school systems.
Other topics of interest:
Disciplinary Actions for Arizona Teachers
What possible disciplinary actions can a school take against a teacher or an educator in Arizona?
I’m mainly speaking to educators in grades K-12 in the public school setting here in Arizona. Charter schools and some private schools.
First, let’s talk about how you would get to the place where you would receive discipline as a teacher. Suppose any allegations or complaints made for misconduct, abuse, unprofessional conduct, or crimes you’ve committed outside the school. Accordingly, huge possibilities could affect your job as a teacher within a school district. But once that happens, the school will open an investigation.
You will be made aware of it. In addition, the school may interview students, parents, or staff. They may review cameras. Any evidence they can collect within the school to see if there’s any validity to the misconduct allegations.
While this is happening, they usually put you on administrative leave. I would say it’s paid. Sometimes it’s unpaid, which means you have to leave school.
You may also not come back or contact anyone in the school unless it’s a designated person. Typically, there’s someone in HR or the legal department that you can reach if you need any questions answered. But during that time, when you are on administrative leave, you are away from the school. So, once they’ve conducted their investigation, they find that there is some validity to it. They may impose discipline on that teacher.
Disciplinary Actions Against the Teacher
And so, what does that look like?
Most of the time, the school district will let the teacher resign. They’ll say quit, or we will terminate your contract. So, they will force you to leave the school district. That’s probably the most common one. Sometimes you guys go your separate ways. There’s a mutual agreement that it would not be a good fit for you to remain at the school. And so, you’re released from your contract.
And then, if it’s severe and threatening the safety of students, you may be terminated. It would be considered a for-cause termination outlined in your employment contract, and you can look at that. Furthermore, it has specific reasons why they can terminate it.
Now, these are the disciplines within the school district. So, they’ll mainly put you on probation or administrative leave, or you’ll be terminated or forced to resign. But you want to remember that schools are mandated reporters, so you can call this discipline or not. But they will report you to your licensing board. So, that’s the State Board of Education in Arizona.
Importance of Having a Defense Attorney
They are likely to open an investigation for whatever those allegations were. Consequently, they will also decide what discipline should be against your license. If it’s severe abuse against a student, then the school district will report you to the local authorities. So, that’s the police, and they may also open an investigation. Also, if it’s anything to do with children or students, they will report you to child protective services.
They may also open another investigation. So, three agencies and licensing boards will be conducting and potentially disciplining or filing charges against you. It is serious. Teachers always want to protect themselves. So, I recommend having a lawyer represent you if you’re under investigation and the school may be disciplining you somehow.
Here at Chelle Law, we’re very familiar with this process. I was an educator for eight years before becoming an attorney. So, I’m highly familiar with the process.
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 possibly 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 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 may 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. It can mean communications, physical, social media, etc. It is more of a broad term.
You want to be very careful to understand that. It 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.
They would make a finding of fact and conclusions of law if they did think there was a finding that there’s a relationship of sexual nature or abuse.
According to the State Board of Education guidelines, they would revoke the educator’s license if there was any relationship or abuse. It’s serious because the offense is severe. And so, that’s where it would usually 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 conclusions. Again, you may attend an administrative hearing at the state level if you disagree with the discipline.
At the school level, people would likely ask you to resign or terminate you. The investigation starts at the school level and would involve an interview with the victim or all the students involved. Maybe the alleged victim’s 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.
Arizona Teacher PPAC Complaint Hearing
What is a Professional Practices Advisory Committee (PPAC) Complaint Hearing?
To address that, I’ll backtrack just a little bit. If you’re an educator here in Arizona, the Arizona Board of Education likely licensed you.
If there is a complaint for either immoral or unprofessional conduct, there will probably be an investigation, and you may be disciplined with your license here in Arizona.
Sometimes you can come to a negotiated settlement agreement. So, the state board, your investigator, and you agree on the findings of facts, conclusions of law, and discipline the investigation will bring forth. If you agree, it’s a consent or settlement agreement. They will convey it before the state board of education, they can affirm it, then it will go into effect.
Professional Practices Advisory Committee
However, if you contest any of the findings, the discipline, or anything like that, you cannot agree. They will bring your complaint before the Professional Practices Advisory Committee. This committee acts like an administrative hearing.
So, there are committees apprised of seven individuals, and these groups alternate. You will go before the committee. You may bring evidence and examine witnesses if you would like. They can also ask you questions and consider aggravating circumstances—that’s anything that’s not going to help your case.
So, if you have the prior discipline or similar complaints in the past, those would aggravate circumstances.
They would also consider mitigating circumstances. Are you new to the profession? What are the surrounding circumstances that may help with your situation? They’re going to appraise all of that. With all the evidence you put on, you can represent yourself, or you can have an attorney represent you as well.
After the hearings, they will then make a finding of fact and conclusions of law and a recommendation for discipline.
Discipline for the State Board of Education has a guideline depending on what type of immoral or unprofessional conduct. It is anywhere from a DUI, breaking your teaching contract, to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work.
Once they’ve decided to bring all of that before the board of education, they will affirm, amend, or reject the committee’s findings. And once that happens, if they affirm it, it would likely go into effect and amending.
Arizona Teacher Abuse Investigation
What happens when a teacher is under investigation for an allegation of abuse?
So, to go over the general process when a teacher is under investigation in the public school setting, charter school, and sometimes in the private school setting here in Arizona, I’m mainly speaking grades K-12.
They will notify you that you are under investigation by your school district or by your school. They’ll also let you know what the actual complaint is or what the allegation is. Subsequently, they will put you on administrative leave. It can be paid or unpaid, so you will not be able to return to school.
When put on administrative leave, they’ll send you a language saying you cannot contact anyone at the school district. It includes students, parents, and staff unless it’s someone in HR or legal. If you need anything, you can reach out to those contacts. But other than that, it’s no contact. And you may not come back and fulfill your position until the investigation is over.
Abuse Towards Students
Today, I’m specifically talking about an abuse allegation, specifically abuse towards students. Now, this could be physical or emotional abuse. The list goes on from there. It also depends on what type of abuse is alleged.
However, school districts are mandated reporters. If they find any validity to the allegation, they are mandated reporters and will report you to the local authorities. So, that’s the police. The police will also open an investigation and notify child protective services here in Arizona. It is scary and sets forth a chain of severe issues for your career and even criminally.
That said, you want to make sure that you are protected. Suppose an educator is under investigation for abuse. In that case, I always recommend advising an attorney. Having them represent you ensures you are aware of the process and advocating. They’re advocating for you for the best outcome possible.
What Does the Investigation Look Like?
When the school investigates abuse, they will likely talk to any students involved, parents, and staff. They may look at emails to see if there’s any communication involved. Honestly, it just varies depending on the situation. Cameras, if there are any like physical abuse allegations. The school will decide if they think that there is enough there. Again, if there is, they will report you to the State Board of Education.
There will be an investigation against your license and a criminal investigation. The school will inform you about the local authorities and child protective services.
Again, this can be overwhelming. I always recommend advising an attorney and having them represent you throughout this process. If they find these allegations unfounded, you’ll likely come back off administrative leave and then go on accordingly. They may make some recommendations on your parameters whenever you come back if it involves a student. And then, if they find that it is validated, they will likely terminate your contract or let you resign immediately.
There are lots of different outcomes. The biggest takeaway is that school safety is as severe as it should be. But you want to ensure that you’re protecting yourself. And know that they are reporting this to other boards and agencies within the state.
Arizona Teacher License Defense Questions?
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