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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Report on Educator License Actions – Investigations and Sanctions

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:
October 13, 2017

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In June 2017, following the public process under the Massachusetts Administrative Procedure Act, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) voted to amend various sections of the Educator Licensure and Preparation Program Approval Regulations, 603 CMR 7.00. The review of the regulations prompted some questions about the process for granting educator licenses and for revoking licenses or imposing other sanctions on license holders. This memorandum provides additional information regarding investigations and sanctions inposed in connection with educator licenses.

Overview

By statute, the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (Commissioner) has authority to grant educator licenses and to limit, suspend, or revoke an educator license for cause, pursuant to standards and procedures established by the Board. The standards and procedures for license actions are set forth in the Board's regulations at 603 CMR 7.15(8) (copy attached).

On behalf of the Commissioner and in accordance with the regulations, the Department's Office of Professional Practices Investigations (OPPI), located within the Legal Office, investigates allegations about the conduct of licensed educators (licensees) and applicants for licensure, and seeks license sanctions when warranted. For example, OPPI investigates educators alleged to have engaged in gross misconduct or negligence in the conduct of the licensee's professional duties and obligations. In every case, the Department provides full due process rights to licensed educators who are alleged to have committed misconduct.

OPPI's mission is to protect students, maintain the integrity of the education profession, and preserve high quality standards for licensed educators in Massachusetts. Currently, OPPI is managed by a deputy general counsel and staffed by two full-time lawyers, one part-time lawyer, a chief of investigations, and two investigators. Massachusetts has an educator workforce of approximately 96,000 licensed educators, which includes 72,090 teachers (2016-17 data) as well as professional support staff and administrators. Over the past five and one-half years (January 1, 2012-July 31, 2017), 371 educators have had their licenses revoked or suspended.

Legal Authority

The circumstances and procedures under which the Commissioner can limit, suspend, or revoke an educator's license are governed by statute and the Board's regulations on educator licensure. Under G.L. c. 71, § 38G, educators seeking to obtain, maintain, or renew a license must be of "sound moral character." The licensure regulations at 603 CMR 7.15(8)(a) provide that the Commissioner may sanction an educator's license if an investigation determines, among other things, that the licensee is unfit, engaged in gross misconduct or negligence in the course of the licensee's professional duties and obligations, or is convicted of a crime reflecting a lack of good moral character. License sanctions can include a written reprimand or suspension or revocation of the license.

Public school administrators submit most of the allegations of educator misconduct that the Department receives. The regulations at 603 CMR 7.15(8)(g) require licensed administrators to report to the Commissioner the dismissal, resignation, or non-renewal of employment of a licensee for reasons that implicate the grounds for limiting a license. OPPI also opens investigations based upon allegations that arise as a result of criminal prosecution, license sanctions in other jurisdictions, media reports, or a finding by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) of child abuse or neglect by a licensed educator. In addition, OPPI works with local law enforcement in matters where criminal charges may not result, but serious misconduct by a licensee is alleged.

Investigatory Process

Upon the receipt of misconduct allegations about a licensee or applicant, OPPI opens a case file and begins an investigation. In the course of the investigation it is usually necessary for the investigator, counsel, or both to interview the licensee or applicant as well as witnesses, who may include students, teachers, parents, administrators, former employers and others who may have relevant information. OPPI also reviews relevant documents from school files, DCF, court proceedings, law enforcement, and other agencies. It is important to note that actions by a licensee that may have employment consequences do not necessarily warrant license sanction. If, after investigation, OPPI concludes that the licensee did not commit misconduct that implicates the licensee's fitness to hold a license, or that the alleged misconduct cannot be proved at a hearing, the Department may close the investigation without license action.

In every case, the Department provides full due process rights to licensed educators who are alleged to have committed misconduct, including the right to a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. In all cases, educators under investigation by OPPI may retain an attorney to represent them.

Whenever an investigation establishes probable cause that the license should be sanctioned for one or more of the reasons set forth in the regulations, OPPI seeks the Commissioner's approval to proceed with formal misconduct charges. Alternatively, OPPI may seek approval to negotiate an agreed disposition with the licensee. In certain cases, the agreed disposition may require the licensee to pursue additional training, for example, a course in professional boundaries or classroom management. In specific cases, an evaluation by a mental health professional at the licensee's expense may be required to assist in determining an educator's fitness.

If the Commissioner approves the recommendation to proceed and there is no settlement, OPPI sends the licensee a notice of probable cause to revoke or take other action against their license. The licensee then may either consent to the license action or invoke his/her right to appeal by requesting an administrative adjudicatory hearing. If the licensee takes no action within 21 days, the discipline requested in the notice of probable cause is imposed by operation of law pursuant to 603 CMR 7.15(8)(b)(2) and the Massachusetts Administrative Procedure Act, G.L. c. 30A.

If the licensee requests a hearing, the Commissioner designates a hearing officer, typically referring the matter to the Commonwealth's Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) to conduct the administrative hearing. The hearing procedures are outlined in G.L. c. 30A and its regulations; both sides may call witnesses who testify under oath and offer documentary evidence. The hearing officer then recommends a decision to the Commissioner regarding the evidence submitted but does not recommend or impose a license sanction.

After receiving a recommended decision, the Commissioner determines whether to adopt the decision, whether to impose a sanction, and, if so, what type of sanction to impose. In deciding the appropriate sanction, the Commissioner takes many factors into consideration including, but not limited to, the gravity of the misconduct, whether any student was harmed, whether the conduct was related to the licensee's professional duties, the licensee's disciplinary history, and sanctions imposed in similar cases. Under G.L. c. 30A, the licensee has the right to seek judicial review in Superior Court from the final decision of the Commissioner. The vast majority of disputed educator license matters are resolved through settlement, sometimes after the licensee has requested a hearing.

Applicants, unlike licensees, do not have a right to a hearing or other due process rights in connection with a denial. Upon denial of an application, an applicant may seek reconsideration from the Commissioner. The Commissioner's decision is final.

In accordance with the regulations at 603 CMR 7.15(8)(e), OPPI periodically sends notices of license sanctions imposed to all Massachusetts superintendents and heads of charter and virtual schools, and the clearinghouse maintained by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). The NASDTEC clearinghouse also notifies Massachusetts about educator license actions in other states, on an ongoing basis. In addition, as part of its mission to protect students, OPPI notifies independent and private schools.

Data on OPPI's educator license actions from January 1, 2012-July 31, 2017, is attached. Chief of Investigations Quinton Dale, Legal Counsel Cathleen Cavell, and other members of the Department's OPPI team will be at the Board meeting on October 24 to answer your questions.

Attachments:

View HTML Page
Regulation on educator license actions, 603 CMR 7.15(8)
Download Word Document
OPPI Performance Data: Misconduct Investigations January 2012-July 2017
Download PowerPoint File
Educator License Action


Last Updated: October 16, 2017
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