The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 14, 2013

Bill would tighten reins on teachers


Daily Item

---- — When public schools need to jettison wayward teachers, the crust of tenure and union protection makes the process as difficult and expensive as possible.

Workaround negotiations can result in consequences known in the educational community as "passing the trash," helping some unsuitable but certified professional along to another district where he or she will be someone else's problem and expense.

This happens for several reasons. The problems with the educator are not always black and white. They are sometimes allegations, a series of complaints or some other version of one person's word against the words of others.

Other times, issues develop later in a career after there is an established record of approval and acceptability. People change, after all, in the span of a decades-long career and not always in positive ways.

By the time the employer and employee are talking through attorneys, there are mutual interests in separating as soon as possible with the least amount of loss on both sides.

Teachers typically negotiate to keep their teaching credentials and for a neutral letter and language to explain the separation. Districts try to insulate themselves from lawsuits for wrongful termination or defamation.

The consequence can be that an incompetent or inappropriate, but fully credentialed, visibly unblemished educator is working the job market.

One way to speed along an exit from one district, after all, is to do nothing to tarnish the individual's employability elsewhere.

Districts that want to take these matters through channels in order to strip a teacher of his or her certification face a two-year backlog of 500 cases waiting to be heard by the four-person unit in the state Education Department, of which 140-150 have been designated high-priority because they involve allegations of a sexual nature.

To address this, Pennsylvania's Legislature is considering a bill that would install two steps: 1) a standard form reporting whether a teacher left a previous job voluntarily or not, and 2) a requirement that the previous employers provide all documents related to allegations of misconduct with students. As added protection for teachers, the bill now allows districts to withhold any allegations that were found to be untrue.

Whether this approach is the best or fairest way to solve this problem, it is clear that some better legal tools and administrative resources are needed.

Conspiracy of silence is not and has not been the best answer.