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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finding that Educator “lacked good moral character” results in revocation of her teaching license


Finding that Educator “lacked good moral character” results in revocation of her teaching license
2013 NY Slip Op 08318, Appellate Division, Third Department

After students complained that a high school teacher [Educator] was exhibiting favoritism towards certain male students and sending text messages to one male student, the school principal advise Educator about her behavior and that she should avoid even appearances of impropriety.

The following year, similar complaints led to an investigation and the superintendent placing Educator on administrative leave. Educator was allowed to return from leave after she agreed “to follow a teacher improvement plan that required, among other things, that she not meet alone with students.” The plan also suggested that she avoid exchanging communications of a personal nature or engaging in activities beyond the boundaries of an appropriate student/teacher relationship.

Because Educator did not reform her behavior, the district initiated dismissal proceedings whereupon Educator resigned from her position.

Ultimately the State Department of Education initiated an investigation into Educator 's moral character*and issued a notice of substantial question of moral character. Educator requested a hearing, following which the panel found that Educator lacked good moral character because she had engaged in inappropriate contact with a student and disregarded a directive from the superintendent. The majority of the panel recommended that Educator’s teaching certificate be revoked.

The Commissioner of Education agreed with the panel findings regarding Educator’s lack of good moral character and revoked her teaching certificate.**

Following Supreme Court’s dismissed Educator 's CPLR Article 78 petition seeking annulment of the Commissioner's determination, Educator appealed.

The Appellate Division said the finding that Educator lacked good moral character was not arbitrary or capricious. As an example of the information in the record, the Appellate Division noted that Educator's phone records and testimony from an Education Department investigator established that Educator had exchanged over 1,800 text messages with a particular male student between September and May, with 268 of them sent between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. The court commented that “Although the content of the messages and calls is unknown, and [Educator] testified that none of it was inappropriate, the sheer volume of messages between a student and teacher raised red flags.”

The decision reports that “In her testimony, [Educator] acknowledged that her contact with students was not proper because it blurred the boundaries of the teacher/student relationship, but she used her testimony as an opportunity to justify her behavior or blame the students” and “Educator continued exchanging messages after being warned, disciplined and resigning her position for her nonprofessional contact with students, indicating that she did not truly understand or appreciate the improper nature of her extensive personal contact with students.”

The Appellate Division ruled that the Commissioner of Education did not abuse his discretion in imposing the penalty of revocation, as that penalty was not shocking or disproportionate to Educator's conduct.

* See 8 NYCRR 83.1, Determination of good moral character.

** Education Law §305.7 provides, in pertinent part, that “The commissioner may annul upon cause shown to his or her satisfaction any certificate of qualification granted to a teacher by any authority whatever….”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_08318.htm
.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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