“My principal listens to me again. Thank you, Greg.”
Due process for teachers is guaranteed by collective bargaining agreements and by state and federal laws on employment and civil rights. The phrase itself comes from the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It stops government agencies from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property “without due process of law.” One’s career certainly counts as “property.” In looking at whether a superintendent followed due process, education lawyers for teachers ask a simple question: did the administration act fairly? Certainly, before a public school can terminate a teacher they must give them a thorough opportunity to be heard, before a neutral tribunal.
Due Process is particularly important in cases of sexual harassment. Title IX prohibits any public school, college or university from discriminating on the basis of sex. It protects students and teachers from all forms of sexual discrimination and harassment. It means that a school must have procedures for reliable and impartial investigation of complaints. It must offer both accuser and accused the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence.
Due process for teachers requires following Title IX fairly and equitably. That means, for example, that the school must corroborate the complainant’s accusations. It means the school must show that any touching was unwelcome. Most importantly, it means the school must prove harassment by a preponderance of the evidence.
Whether for this or another matter, if you believe your civil rights are under attack, contact one of Connecticut’s education lawyers for teachers right away.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Schools cannot deny the disabled the reasonable accommodations they need to perform their jobs. These federal statutes are mirrored by Connecticut’s own laws. To prove discrimination a teacher must show that with “reasonable” accommodations he or she could have performed all the “essential functions” of the job.
School districts and colleges in Connecticut hesitate to admit that these laws grant disabled teachers their own civil rights. They don’t like to adjust established schedules and routines.
People no longer hesitate to admit they have a medical disability. Besides, society now accepts ADHD, anxiety and other commonplace psychological conditions as “disabilities”. For example, one client taught successfully for six years in a middle school. The district moved him to an elementary school. He struggled to manage the younger students. His superintendent placed him on an intensive assistance plan and, when that did not help, moved to terminate him. The teacher had never revealed that licensed clinicians had identified Attention Deficit Disorder and signs of Asperger’s syndrome in him. Together these conditions constituted a mental impairment that substantially limited the major life activity of teaching. In spite of this handicap the teacher was otherwise qualified for his position. Once the district gave him reasonable accommodations he was able to perform all the essential functions of his new job, with no undue financial or administrative burdens to the Board of Education and with no fundamental alterations in the nature of its educational program.
If you believe your employer has refused to accommodate your disability, contact one of Connecticut’s education lawyers for teachers. With proof from a doctor establishing a medical condition, your school district may have to change your schedule, duties or workplace.
The collective bargaining agreement’s grievance procedures cover discipline short of dismissal. Whenever the district investigates a teacher, the union representative must be allowed in the room. If the district brings outside counsel, the teacher may have a private lawyer, too. This rule does not apply if the district is simply informing the teacher of the discipline it has decided to apply. The teacher can take the Fifth Amendment if any answer might expose them to criminal liability.
Superintendents can suspend a teacher without pursuing the process for either “discipline” or “termination.” The Teacher Tenure Act authorizes immediate suspension for “serious misconduct.” As for termination, but not discipline, while the superintendent investigates the teacher continues to receive pay.
The Act does not define what behavior counts as “serious.” It leaves the decision to the superintendent’s judgment. Since the suspension takes effect right away, education lawyers for teachers will advise that the superintendent must have reason to believe that the teacher’s continued presence at school poses an immediate threat to students or staff.
As with other decisions under the superintendent’s control, a court could review the suspension for the presence of due process. The district would have to show the superintendent had a plausible, rational belief in the existence of a threat.
Termination and dismissal are covered by Connecticut’s Teacher Tenure Act.
Education lawyers for teachers know that a school may move for termination of a tenured employee for one of six reasons — moral misconduct, incompetence, insubordination, disability, elimination of position or other due and sufficient cause. Having represented teachers faced with termination, Greg Smith strongly advises clients not to face such charges without experienced counsel.
In a pre-disciplinary a hearing the Superintendent will investigate whether the teacher has committed certain behaviors. This hearing provides the teacher with an opportunity to respond with evidence and witnesses against the accusations. A skilled education lawyer for teachers will help watch carefully the fairness of who the investigator does or does not interview, what chances they give the teacher to answer the charges and other important considerations.
If the investigation finds against the teacher, his or her attorney can lobby the Superintendent, challenging the credibility of the investigator’s findings.
If the Superintendent moves forward for a hearing on the charge, they must put in writing the details of their case against the teacher. Their education lawyer for teachers will then examine the strength of the Superintendent’s witnesses and evidence. She or he will be in a position to advise on how to respond in the hearing or possibly on how to negotiate a settlement.
Teachers in a public, private, vocational, charter or magnet school in Connecticut whose school has notified them that they are the subject of an investigation should strongly consider obtaining the advice of one of Norwalk’s education lawyers for teachers.
Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act opens up the records of public agencies to copying by members of the public. Schools are agents of the pubic, and the records of their business for the public can be copied. Many kinds of information about teachers thus can be copied.
A capable education lawyer for teachers will advise their clients that there is one kind that cannot be copied: evaluations. Connecticut has made administrators’ evaluations of staff an exception to FOIA. They are not public records for its purposes. The legislature wanted to discourage parents from using evaluations to shop for the best teachers for their child.
(Also not open to the public are teachers’ communications with a student about the student’s problems with drugs or alcohol. Teachers cannot be held liable under FOIA or any other law for not revealing these kinds of communications.)
One kind of record about teachers is open to the public through FOIA: records of personal misconduct. Connecticut law holds a teacher’s personal behavior completely separate from their professional performance. Records of discipline for misconduct thus are the public’s business, open to copying. Newspapers often use such reports to publicize local teachers’ actions.
Education lawyers for teachers in Norwalk, Stamford, Ridgefield, Wilton, Westport, Danbury, and all over Connecticut must be ready to use due process for teachers to challenge districts that plan to disclose records of personal misconduct that actually are evaluations.
Workers’ compensation cover almost all injuries a teacher could suffer at school. It makes the district strictly liable for every accidental harm that happens in the course of work. In return, an injured teacher has no right to sue their employer. Not covered by workers’ compensation are intentional injuries. In the normal course of work, no employee deliberately harms another. When they do, the law frees the district from responsibility. When one teacher intentionally hurts another, the second may take the first to court. Education lawyers for teachers in Connecticut must advise their clients that their chance of recovery will depend on proving the harm didn’t happen in the normal routine of teaching.
Teachers’ Records And FOIA
Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act lets the public copy their agencies’ records. Schools act for the public. The records they keep in the course of their business are open to the public.
There is one kind that cannot be copied: evaluations. Even though they are ‘public records,’ Connecticut has made administrators’ evaluations of staff an exception to FOIA. The legislature wanted to discourage parents from using evaluations to shop for the best teachers for their child.
However, evaluations are not the same as personal records. Connecticut law holds that a teacher’s personal conduct is completely separate from their professional performance. Records of discipline for misconduct thus are the public’s business, open to copying. Newspapers often use such reports to publicize local teachers’ actions.
Greg Smith advises clients in Norwalk, Stamford, Ridgefield, Wilton, Westport, Danbury, and all over Connecticut that he will be ready to use due process for teachers to challenge districts that plan to disclose records of personal misconduct that actually are evaluations.