Policy revision considered over first-time alcohol offenses among teachers

In what would be a significant shift in statewide teacher disciplinary policy, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing is considering a plan to streamline oversight of first-time alcohol offenders.

The proposal is one of a number of ideas that commission staff have made in response to an audit issued last year that criticized the agency's inability to deal with a big backlog of misconduct complaints that reviewers said could have jeopardized student safety.

The commission, empowered to regulate teacher quality and conduct, has the authority to suspend or revoke teacher credentials as a result of criminal behavior - but only under certain circumstances.

Currently, the commission reviews and analyzes as many as 5,000 reports each year of teachers either being arrested or prosecuted. While nearly a third of those cases involve first-time alcoholic infractions, the commission rarely takes any action on them because most of the time the offense is unrelated to school activities and the agency has no authority.

Nonetheless, the existing practice at the commission is for each first-alcohol offense to be reviewed; court papers gathered and analyzed before the case is placed on the consent calendar of the CTC's Committee of Credentials.

Nanette Rufo, director of the commission's division of professional practices, said eliminating individual case work by both staff and the committee could save a significant amount of staff time.

Under the revised policy a credential applicant or license-holder who is convicted of one misdemeanor alcohol related offense would no longer be submitted to the Committee of Credentials for review. Staff would close the case after noting the offense in the CTC's disciplinary database.

After some discussion Friday, the board set the proposal aside to allow more input from stakeholder groups. It is expected to come back to the board in March.

A representative of the Association of California School Administrators said her organization supported the policy change. But a representative of the California Teachers Association strongly urged the board give the public more time to consider the idea.

The review by state auditors found CTC had at one point in the summer of 2009 a backlog of more than 12,000 unprocessed misconduct complaints - a finding that created a firestorm of criticism and resulted in the executive director stepping down.

Close analysis has found that much of that backlog was complaints related to people who were either not fully credentialed or had their license lapse. In addition there were many first-time alcohol offenses clogging the system that the CTC probably had no jurisdiction over.

Under Title 5 California Code of Regulations, the CTC can take action only if the misconduct has a relationship to the teacher's ability to perform the duties with consideration to the following factors:

- The likelihood that the conduct may have adversely affected students, fellow teachers or the educational community, and the degree of such adversity;

- The proximity or remoteness in time of the conduct;

- The type of credential held or applied for by the person involved;

- The extenuating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the conduct;

- The praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of the motives resulting in the conduct;

- The likelihood of the recurrence of the questioned conduct;

- The extent to which disciplinary action may inflict an adverse impact or chilling effect upon the constitutional rights of the person involved, or other certified persons;

- The publicity or notoriety given to the conduct.