Proposed public reprimand of Tennessee teachers raises concerns

Proposed public reprimand of Tennessee teachers raises concerns

Posted:

By HANA KIM
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The State Board of Education could pass a new rule this week that would allow it to publicly reprimand a teacher for misconduct.

However, the initiative is creating some fear that teachers' personal rights would be infringed upon.

If the board passes the agenda on Friday, it will give the board the option to publicly reprimand a teacher for bad behavior. That reprimand will be on the teacher's record permanently so that every school district in Tennessee could find out about it. 

School districts are required to turn over a teacher's case for evaluation if there's a misconduct problem.

The board can either suspend or even revoke a teacher's license, depending on the case. The state says a public reprimand would be something in the middle, given out for an offense that is not worth a suspension, but still frowned on.

General Counsel Dannelle Walker deals with most of the state's licensing cases and came up the initiative.

"We have pretty much a small hammer and a big hammer. We want to have like a screwdriver to make it a little bit better, and we are not pulling out the big hammer for such small offenses," Walker said.

However, the initiative is stirring a lot of confusion.

Sherry Morgan, president of the Knox County Teacher's Union, says there isn't a clear definition of what violations would warrant a public reprimand.

For example, could a bankruptcy, a domestic issue or a first time DUI offense be enough for a reprimand?

"They have their professional life. They have their personal life, and are they going to infringe on their personal lives? I honestly think it could ruin their careers," Morgan said.

"It's not going to be frivolous or arbitrary," Walker said. "It has to be in precedent of what we've done before."

Walker says teachers would not be unfairly targeted for bankruptcy or minor issues.

In fact, she says a public reprimand would allow teachers, in many cases, to keep their jobs when they wouldn't have before. For example, she says a TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) breach even the most minor offense requires a suspension.

"A public reprimand is not going to put someone out of work for a year," Walker said.

Walker gave another example. She says last year, a teacher was fired for having adult pornography on his work computer.

Since the board couldn't prove any detriment to students, members decided it was an employment issue for the school district and did not suspend the teacher's license.

Walker says with a public reprimand, other school districts would have been able to find out about the teacher's actions.

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