In New Jersey, obtaining a teaching certificate is a difficult task, requiring a great deal of credentials. For the individuals who are issued a teaching certificate, it is a testament to the individual’s dedication, commitment, and passion for teaching. Therefore, if your certificate is at risk of being revoked or suspended, it is important to know your rights and whether to challenge such a determination.
The State Board of Examiners may revoke, suspend or deny a teacher’s certificate for many grounds set forth in the New Jersey Department of Education’s regulations in the New Jersey Administrative Code, N.J.A.C.§6A:9B-4.4. One of the grounds that the State Board of Examiners may revoke, suspend or deny a teaching certificate is on the basis of “conduct unbecoming a teacher.” Like many legal terms, “conduct unbecoming a teacher” is inherently broad and encompasses a wide variety of teacher activity. Due to its broad nature, a look into how courts have defined and analyzed “conduct unbecoming a teacher” is important if your certificate is being revoked, suspended or denied to determine whether to appeal the revocation or suspension.
Courts have defined “conduct unbecoming a teacher” in multiple ways including :
- Conduct “which has a tendency to destroy public respect for [government] employees and confidence in the operation of [public] services.”
- Conduct which adversely affects the morale or efficiency of the department.
- Conduct which “may be based merely upon the violation of the implicit standard of good behavior which devolves upon one who stands in the public eye as an upholder of that which is morally and legally correct.”
The various definitions provided by courts over the years have left the actions that actually constitute “conduct unbecoming a teacher” muddled. Therefore, if you challenge the revocation or suspension of your license, it will be reviewed on a case by case basis, making it important to distinguish the facts of your case from other cases before it.
The following cases are examples where courts have upheld the finding of “conduct unbecoming a teacher:”
- In of Educ. of the Manchester Reg’l Sch. Dist. V. Christopher Wannemacher, the teacher’s conduct rose to the level of unbecoming for, among other things: (1) commenting on a student’s bra; (2) reading students’ grades out loud in front of the classroom; and (3) suggesting to a student if his mother was pretty, he would not have a “problem.”
- In In re Tenure Hearing of Hill, the teacher’s unbecoming conduct included: (1) failing to timely submit grades; (2) exhibiting vulgar behavior towards colleagues; and (3) refusing to accept letters from supervisors.
- In In re Tenure Hearing of Ash, the teacher was found guilty of unbecoming conduct for: (1) refusing to comply with supervisor’s warnings; and (2) failing to submit required lesson plans.
While the examples above involve multiple incidents of unbecoming conduct, unbecoming conduct may be shown by only one incident, if it is “sufficiently flagrant.”
The lack of a clear and concrete definition of what constitutes “conduct unbecoming a teacher” has created a broad basis which the State Board of Examiners can use to initiate a revocation or suspension proceeding of your certificate. If you are faced with such a situation, it is important that you do not wait to seek legal representation. If the State Board of Examiners moves for the revocation or suspension of your certificate, the Secretary for the Department of Education shall commence what is called an order to show cause detailing the facts supporting the State Board of Examiners decision.
You only have thirty (30) days from the date the order to show cause is mailed to file an answer and contest the State Board of Examiners decision.
Our New Jersey employment lawyers can help you file an answer and represent you going forward if you are faced with such an order to show cause to revoke or suspend your teaching certificate. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or e-mail us to schedule a consultation to speak with one of our New Jersey employment attorneys.