This lecture is one I’ve given to teacher candidates at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky. It is designed to serve as a primer for understanding legal and ethical concerns relating to the teaching profession, and to acclimatize candidates to the process through which the Education Professional Standards Board will use in the event of a complaint against a teacher. This lecture is not intended to serve as legal advice, but rather as a generalized guide to teacher ethics in Kentucky. If you are teacher facing an ethics inquiry, you should consult an attorney.
As an introduction, one should first examine the meaning of the word ethics. Ethics, in this lecture, refers to a system of moral principles that establish guidelines for “right and wrong” in the teaching profession. In Kentucky, professional educator ethics have been established through the EPSB, and consequences for unethical or illegal acts have also been established.
The Kentucky Legislature mandates that the EPSB may take the following actions against any certificate or teachers license held by a superintendent, principals, teachers, substitute teachers, interns, supervisors, directors of pupil personnel, or other administrative, supervisory, or instructional employees:
- Revoke, refuse to issue or renew, or suspend any license;
- Impose probationary or supervisory conditions upon any license;
- Issue a written reprimand or admonishment; or
- Any combination of the above
The EPSB may take the above actions for violations listed in KRS 161.120, including:
- Being convicted of, or entering an “Alford” plea or plea of no contest in any one of the following
- A felony;
- A misdemeanor from any of the following sections of the Kentucky Revised Statues:
- Chapter 218A – Controlled Substances
- Chapter 508 – Assault Crimes
- Chapter 509 – Kidnapping Crimes
- Chapter 510 – Sexual Offenses
- Chapter 522 – Abuse of Public Office
- Chapter 525 – Riot, Disorderly Conduct, and Related Crimes
- Chapter 529 – Prostitution Offenses
- Chapter 530 – Family Crimes
- Chapter 531 – Pornography Crimes
- A misdemeanor involving a student or minor.
- A certified copy of the conviction or plea is treated as conclusive evidence of the conviction or plea.
- Having sexual contact with a student or minor as defined in KRS 510.010(7). Conviction is not required for disciplinary action;
- KRS 510.010(7) – “Sexual contact” means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either party.
- Committing any act that constitutes fraudulent, corrupt, dishonest, or immoral conduct. If the act constitutes a crime, conviction in a criminal proceeding shall not be a condition precedent to disciplinary action;
- Demonstrating willful or careless disregard for the health, welfare, or safety of others;
- Physical or mental incapacity that prevents the certificate holder from performing duties with reasonable skill, competence, or safety;
- Possessing, using, or being under the influence of alcohol, which impairs the performance of duties;
- Unlawfully possessing or unlawfully using a drug during the performance of duties;
- Incompetency or neglect of duty;
- Making, or causing to be made, any false or misleading statement or concealing a material fact in obtaining issuance or renewal of any certificate;
- Failing to report as required by subsection (2) of this section;
- Failing to comply with an order of the Education Professional Standards Board;
- Violating any state statute relating to schools or the teaching profession;
- Violating the professional code of ethics for Kentucky school certified personnel established by the Education Professional Standards Board through the promulgation of administrative regulation;
- Violating any administrative regulation promulgated by the Education Professional Standards Board or the Kentucky Board of Education; or
- Receiving disciplinary action or having the issuance of a certificate denied or restricted by another jurisdiction on grounds that constitute a violation of this subsection.
Please note a couple of key items. The statute frequently makes use of the term “student or a minor.” In those cases, the act envisioned does not necessarily take place involving a teacher’s student but includes all minors. Note also the difference between drugs and alcohol – alcohol possession, use, or being under the influence must impair the performance of duties, whereas unlawful drug use or unlawful drug possession that occurs during the performance of duties is forbidden.
The overarching theme for teachers and education professionals is: Practice your profession in a manner that is above reproach and gives credit to the profession.
Note also that the professional code of ethics for Kentucky school certified personnel establishes distinct duties to three constituencies:
- Duties to Students;
- Duties to Parents; and
- Duties to the teaching profession.
It is next necessary to evaluate the process by which the EPSB will take action against a teaching certificate. A PDF copy of the process is available here. Note that respondent refers to the educator against which a complaint has been filed.
This graphic depicts the process from initial complaint to one of six original dispositions. Those dispositions are:
- Non-initiation of a case because either the allegations are not credible or the actions do not constitute a violation of the KRS section detailed previously.
- Defer for more information – Additional information is requested from the board, which will hear the matter again at a later date.
- Dismissal – the complaint is dismissed. However, since the dismissal may not reach the merits of the case, the dismissal is without prejudice and subsequent action the complaint is not prohibited.
- Deferral for training – the educator is offered the opportunity to attend training and submit proof of attendance. Upon submission, the complaint is dismissed. If the educator protests, the case is returned the board.
- Admonishment – the board issues a formal written admonishment to the educator with a copy to the educator’s superintendent. The educator may appeal, which is treated as though the admonishment was never issued and the case is schedule for a hearing. Alternatively, a response other than an appeal is added to the teaching file and the case is closed, or no response comes in and the case is closed.
- Referral for a hearing.
A hearing closely follows a typical administrative hearing. This process is detailed below:
An EPSB attorney is assigned to prosecute the case. An initial draft agreed order is prepared and forwarded to the respondent for either agreement or rejection. Upon agreement, the order is forwarded to the Board, which may accept or reject the agreement. If the Board agrees, the agreed order becomes operative. If rejected, the case returns to the negotiation phase, and the hearing process continues. Charges are drafted, a hearing officer is selected, and pretrial discovery begins. A hearing is held, and after 30 days, an official transcript of the hearing is prepared. 60 days after the hearing, a recommended order is prepared. Each side is granted 15 days to file exceptions. 90 days after the hearing, the recommended order, along with any exceptions, is passed along to the Board for review. The board may reject, approve, or modify the recommended order, and at that point the Board issues a final order. The respondent may take an appeal to Franklin Circuit Court.
Throughout the process, the Kentucky Educator Certification Inquiry (KECI) system updated, albeit in a limited fashion. After a complaint is accepted and a formal case file is opened, an icon appears in KECI to the respondent, the relevant superintendent, and school district human resources directors. The icon is removed at a final disposition.