Is It Legal: Pot Use, Rude Conduct Lead to Problems for Teacher

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Ohio’s Court of Appeals upheld the revocation of the teaching license of an intervention specialist. 

The revocation was based on administrative findings of conduct unbecoming a teacher, including charges of inappropriate physical contact with students and marijuana use.

After receiving reports that caused “professional conduct concerns” about the specialist, the school district placed her on administrative leave. A letter informed her she could appear with a representative at a fact-finding conference.

Before any formal action by the school district following the fact-finding conference, the specialist resigned due to “personal reasons” and allowed her teaching license to lapse.  The next year, she sought to renew her license with the state department of education.

In response, the Ohio Board of Education charged the specialist with eight instances of conduct unbecoming a teacher. The board declared its intent to consider whether her license application should be limited, suspended, revoked or denied.

In a letter to the specialist, the board charged her with making unprofessional and inappropriate comments about students, staff, and parents, and making unprofessional posts on social media pertaining to her workplace.

The board charged the specialist with revealing details of a student’s IEP to parents and students, making inappropriate physical contact with students, using marijuana and asking for marijuana to be delivered on school property.

Further, the board charged the specialist with creating a hostile learning and working environment for students, staff, and parents, failing to follow IEP instructions for students, and calling a student’s private nurse a “big, gross, disgusting wildebeest.”

After a seven-day hearing, a hearing officer denied the specialist’s claim that she was denied due process, finding she fully participated in the prehearing process and presented 11 witnesses and 27 exhibits during her hearing.

Concluding that the specialist engaged in conduct unbecoming a teacher on five grounds, the hearing officer recommended revocation of her expired license, denial of her pending application and denial of any reapplication for a license for at least five years.

Specialist Must Take Anger Management Training
The board adopted the hearing officer’s findings and conclusions, but reduced the sanctions by allowing the specialist to reapply for licensure on July 1, 2018, provided that she complete a fitness to teach evaluation and eight hours of anger management training.

On appeal, a state court of common pleas agreed with the specialist’s arguments that she was denied due process and that the board’s findings were not supported by reliable and substantial evidence. The board appealed to the state court of appeals.

After considering the charges brought against the specialist, the court noted her argument that she was a caring and effective teacher of students with multiple disabilities. She argued the state was “unprofessional” and “overwrought” in handling her case.

The court rejected the specialist’s claim that the board failed to use a specific definition when charging her with “conduct unbecoming a teacher.” It found instead that the hearing officer had properly relied on the state administrative code’s definition of the term.

Next, the court rejected the specialist’s claim that she was denied due process. It found the department’s notices provided descriptions of the charges against her and that she was provided a full and fair opportunity to be heard.

As the board argued, the court of common pleas abused its discretion in reversing the administrative decision. A court may only overturn administrative findings that are not supported by reliable, probative and substantial evidence.

It appeared to the court that the lower court’s decision was supported by a “sweeping generalization” about the testimony of three education department witnesses who were found to have a personality conflict with the specialist.

While the lower court found these witnesses gave unreliable testimony, the court of appeals found no support for this generalization. In fact, it found the lower court made no analysis of whether their testimony was inconsistent, improper or otherwise unsupported.

In addition, the court of appeals found the lower court was dismissive of other parts of the board’s decision, focusing instead on the testimony of the three department witnesses. After a review of the record, the court found the lower court abused its discretion.

Noting that the specialist had acknowledged her inappropriate conduct, the court found her misconduct reflected negatively on the teaching profession, and it reinstated the board’s decision.

Langdon v. Ohio Dep’t of Educ., No. CA2017-02-025, 2017 WL 4876969 (Ohio Ct. App. 10/30/17).

 

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