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.
Background: As these charges involved crimes of moral turpitude, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) filed a Notice of Charges and a motion for summary judgment with the Professional Standards & Practices Commission (Commission). PDE sought immediate suspension of C.S.’s teaching certificates pursuant to the Educator Discipline Act (EDA). The EDA permitted suspension of an educator’s certificates pending the outcome of newly filed criminal charges in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of her students and others in the school community.
C.S. filed an Answer with the Commission. Her Answer requested the Notice of Charges be dismissed and requested an evidentiary hearing before her certificates were suspended. 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 does not provide for educators in her position to be granted back pay during the period of their suspension. As a result, wages lost during the suspension would never be recovered.
Commonwealth Court's Opinion: The Commonwealth Court wrote that the EDA’s immediate suspension, based solely upon new criminal charges, violated due process requirements within the US Constitution. The 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 Loudermill. The Commission was required to vacate its prior order granting summary judgment and imposition of suspension against Ms. Slater.
In addition, the opinion declared that C.S. to be awarded back pay to the date of her suspension.
Importance: The long term effect of this case was the 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 raising her issues within the PDE discipline process. 6-12-21
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