Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Revocation or Suspension of Educator Certification: A Systematic Analysis of the Case Law

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Revocation or Suspension of Educator Certification: A Systematic Analysis of the Case Law

Article excerpt


The dismissal or even disciplinary suspension of a teacher or other K12 professional educator, such as a principal, is a serious matter for both the school district and the individual educator. The fiscal as well as reputational effects on the educator may well lead to challenging the school district's action in court. Yet, corresponding state action, in terms of revoking or suspending the educator's professional license, has more devastating effects by precluding continuation of the individual's livelihood elsewhere in the state and, because of reciprocity arrangements among states, in the country. Although the resulting incentive for litigation is all the more pronounced, the literature lacks systematic analysis of the frequency and outcomes of the case law concerning certification revocation and suspension.

The succeeding parts of this article follow the general format of an empirical study. More specifically, Part II provides a review of the related literature that culminates in the questions for analysis. Part III provides the method of the data collection and analysis. Part IV presents the results, and Part V discusses the results in terms of interpretations and implications.


Dismissal and other discipline of public school educators has long been a staple of the education law literature.1 In contrast, the literature concerning the suspension or revocation of educators' licenses is scant. For example, the case law interpreting and applying statutes requiring competency tests for teacher certification has been the subject of occasional analyses,2 but the connection to revocation of certification is limited due to this relatively narrow basis and its primary focus on obtaining rather than suspending or revoking the educator's license. Similarly, other sources are of narrow or peripheral relevance.* * 3

Second, various sources provide the agency framework leading to this case law. The state agencies that establish and enforce the certification of K-12 educators vary rather widely within two basic models. One model is via the certification office of the state education agency.4 The other is via an independent or semi-autonomous professional practices commission.5

Finally, in a systematic analysis that was the stimulus and partial foundation for this empirically styled examination of the case law, I canvassed state ethical codes for school leaders, finding that most of them were generic to K-12 educators.6 In setting forth the boundaries for my analysis, I differentiated three basic and overlapping categories of official state codes representing a continuum of conduct: (1) those focusing on criminal or criminal-like behavior, such as assault and battery; (2) those focusing on performance that largely paralleled the grounds for district dismissal or other discipline, such as incompetence, insubordination, or immorality; and (3) those focusing on the higher, or "softer," standards that correspond in state laws to professional educator organizations' ethical codes, such as protecting student safety, exhibiting honesty, avoiding personal gain. My recommendations for follow-up research included "a corresponding empirical analysis of the frequency and outcomes of judicial appeals of the agency sanctions."7 8

In light of the specific scope of this recommendation and the wide gap in the literature, the purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive canvassing of the case law concerning the revocation or suspension of educator licensing (both referred to herein under the approximating abbreviated designation "decertification"). More specifically, this article addresses the following six questions specific to this decertification case law:

(1) What is the overall longitudinal trend in the frequency of this case law?

(2) Which states, in descending order, account for the majority of this case law?

(3) What is the distribution of the total number of cases with respect to the level of sanction-suspensions of increasing lengths and revocation? …

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