Your Legal Rights as An Educator: Certification and Employment

As an educator, it’s important that you know the legal aspects of your job through and through – especially if you work at a public school. You need to know the legal strictures governing your behavior as a teacher – and you need to know what legal standing you have recourse to as a professional.

State-specific laws and regulations address the basic requirements for the certification and employment of teachers. Certification is a tool to ensure that a teacher has the preparation to be competent in the profession. Teaching certificates are issued for specific time periods, such as a 5-year or a 10-year term, and limit a teacher to teaching specific subjects and ages. Most states require ongoing professional development to upgrade skills and knowledge and maintain competencies. Failure to do so could result in ineligibility for certificate renewal and consequent job loss.

The requirements for teacher certification are standardized for all applicants and are tested in the courts before their implementation, so the procedure is fair and just. Nonetheless, the law does not intervene in the specific requirements for teaching certification by individual states and intervenes only in instances of violation of human personal rights. A good example of such a violation is the case of United States v. State of South Carolina, in which the court defended the use of National Teacher Examinations as a certification requirement and in determining salaries, even though the test was proven to be biased against minorities. Likewise, in Bay v. State Board of Education, the court took a stern stand and ruled that any applicant convicted of burglary in the past could be lawfully refused a teaching certificate.

In the case of State v. Project Principal, Inc., the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that gainfully employed teachers with permanent certification were required to pass a teacher’s examination to prove their competence for continuing their employed status. In this instance, the court supported the state’s right to replace or nullify existing conditions for renewal of certification and to set up new conditions. Likewise, the verdict of Kelly v. Bonney et al. ruled that permanent certificates held by teachers could be replaced with certificates of a 5-year duration that could be renewed only if the teacher successfully completed additional training.

Every state has an established set of rules and laws for cases involving questions about revoking or extending a teaching certificate. These rules and laws contain clear descriptions of reasons, situations, or actions that could amount to suspension of certification. Reasons for certification suspension are quite varied, ranging from poor moral conduct or being physically or mentally unfit for teaching, to having a criminal conviction. The revocation of one’s teaching certification and loss of employment are not synonymous. While the former certainly leads to the latter, the latter does not necessarily have to result in the former. But teaching certificates are suspended nearly 100% of the time after a teacher’s dismissal and the subsequent request for certification revocation by the school district’s board.

You teaching certification is the crux of your job. Make sure you understand the legal precedent you need to uphold in order to keep that licensing – and, thus, your ability to find a job.

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