If an educator is arrested for new
criminal charges alleging conduct which appears to pose a threat to the welfare of her students, will her certificate immediately be suspended pending outcome of the new charges?
C.S. held an Instructional 1 teaching certificate in Elementary & Early Childhood Education and as a Reading Specialist. In January, 1997, she was arrested on charges of Endangering the Welfare of Children, Selling/Furnishing Liquor to Minors and Corruption of Minors.
As these charges involved crimes of moral turpitude, Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) filed a Notice of Charges and sought suspension of C.S.’s teaching certificates pursuant to the Educators Discipline Act (Act). In addition, PDE filed a motion for summary judgment with the Professional Standards & Practices Commission (PSPC). The EDA in 1997 permitted suspension of an educator’s certificates pending the outcome of newly filed criminal charges which included elements of moral turpitude in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the defendant’s students and others in the school community.
C.S. filed an Answer with the PSPC. Her Answer requested the Notice of Charges be dismissed and requested an evidentiary hearing. C.S. wanted to use the hearing to present evidence that her husband had filed the criminal charges as part of their contentious and ongoing divorce proceeding. PDE's motion for summary judgment was argued by PDE counsel. The Commission would not allow C.S. an evidentiary hearing. PDE’s motion for summary judgment was granted by the Commission and C.S’s teaching certificates were suspended.
Ultimately, C.S. was found not guilty of all charges.
Issues on appeal to Commonwealth Court: C.S. argued the EDA requirement that her indictment for crimes of moral turpitude alone did not justify the Commission's automatic suspension of her teaching certificates. The suspension, before any conviction, violated her constitutional rights to due process. Specifically, C.S. claimed the automatic suspension removed her property interest in employment without the benefit of a meaningful, pre-deprivation or post-deprivation hearing required by the US Supreme Court in Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 US 532, 534 (1985).
In addition, the EDA did not provide educators suspended due to new criminal charges, to be granted back pay for the period of their suspension upon acquital.
Commonwealth Court's Opinion: As decided in Petron v. PDE, a case argued before the Commonwealth Court the same day as C.S.’s, the EDA suspension based upon new criminal charges violated due process requirements within the US Constitution. The PSPC’s failure to offer a meaningful opportunity for C.S.to explain any circumstances mitigating her perceived threat to harm her students, violated her due process rights identified in Loudermill. The PSPC was required to vacate its prior order granting summary judgment, imposition of suspension against C.S. and to provide a new order mandating she receive full back pay.
Importance: The long term effect of both Petron and this case was the eventual amendment of EDA Section 9(b)(1). Now an educator charged with a criminal charge may request a hearing to address whether or not his/her teaching certificate should be suspended pending outcome of new criminal charges. The back pay requirement was also much needed. These were notable achievements for educators throughout our state! All this was accomplished by an educator and her counsel raising her issues within the PDE discipline process.
Slater v. PDE & Professional Standards Commission, 725 A2d 1248 (PA Commonwealth Court 1999)
Attorney Ronald Watzman for Ms. Slater
Attorney Linda McKay and Gregory E. Dunlap for Pennsylvania Department of Education