Frequently Asked Questions
What is meant by the term "professional ethics"?
The term “professional ethics” refers to standards of behavior that reflect the manner in which educators should interact with students, colleagues, and the community. All educators are expected to accept the responsibility to adhere to the highest ethical standards.
Are the standards of professional conduct codified?
General principles of conduct can be found in Pennsylvania’s Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators
. (22 Pa. Code §§235.1 et seq.) Any individual who becomes an educator in the Commonwealth makes a moral commitment to uphold the values reflected in the Code. In addition, the Educator Discipline Act
(24 P.S. §§2070.1a et seq.) sets forth the types of misconduct that can result in educator discipline.
How are professional standards enforced?
The Professional Standards and Practices Commission ( Commission) is the independent body, representing practicing educators and administrators, the general public and teacher preparation programs, which is charged with providing leadership for improving the quality of education in the Commonwealth by establishing high standards for preparation, certification, practice and ethical conduct in the teaching profession. One facet of its mission is to oversee the educator discipline system, including the imposition of state level discipline.
What is professional discipline?
Professional discipline refers to action taken by the Commonwealth against an educator's certification or eligibility to work as a charter or cyber charter school staff member or contracted educational provider staff member as a result of misconduct. Professional discipline should be distinguished from local discipline or employment action. Imposition of either local or state action for misconduct is not contingent on the other.
Do only certified educators come under the jurisdiction of the Commission?
The Commission has jurisdiction to impose discipline against any public or private certificated educator, including administrators or those working in a non-certificated position, notwithstanding his or her current employment status or state of residence, as well as educators who work in charter and cyber charter schools or in an entity that contracts to provide direct educational services to students but in a position for which certification would be required in a traditional public school. Non-certificated employees of a public school are not covered by the Educator Discipline Act.
What if I have a complaint about an employee of a college/university or other post-secondary institution?
The Commission does not have jurisdiction over post-secondary employees unless they are certificated on the elementary or secondary level. Complaints about employees of post-secondary institutions should be directed to the institution or its governing board.
What constitutes misconduct for purposes of professional discipline?
Actionable misconduct can be either criminal or non-criminal in nature. Charges will be initiated against any educator who is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude or any crime listed in section 111(e) of the Public School Code of 1949. By law, the Commission must revoke the certificate of an educator who is convicted of such crimes or has a founded report of child abuse under the Child Protective Services Act. Section 111(e) crimes are as follows:
- Criminal Homicide
- Aggravated Assault
- Unlawful Restraint
- Luring a Child into a Motor Vehicle or Structure
- Statutory Sexual Assault
- Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse
- Sexual Assault
- Institutional Sexual Assault
- Aggravated Indecent Assault
- Indecent Assault
- Indecent Exposure
- Sexual Intercourse with an Animal
- Concealing Death of a Child
- Endangering Welfare of Children
- Dealing in Infant Children
- Felony offense related to Prostitution and related offenses
- Offenses related to obscene and other sexual materials/performances
- Corruption of Minors
- Sexual Abuse of Children
- Unlawful Contact with Minor
- Solicitation of Minors to Traffic Drugs
- Sexual Exploitation of Children
- Felony Offenses under The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
- Out-of-state, out-of-country, and federal crimes similar to those listed above.
In addition, conduct that constitutes immorality, intemperance, cruelty, negligence, incompetency, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse or exploitation and failure to fulfill obligations under the Act (including mandatory reporting duties) can form the basis of charges brought against an educator. Definitions of these terms can be found in Chapter 237 of Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code. Finally, violations the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators and of section 1231 of the Public School Code of 1949 (prohibiting illegal use of a professional title/forgery or alteration of a teaching certificate) can serve as grounds for discipline.
What are the types of discipline that can be imposed by the Commission?
Under the Educator Discipline Act, the Commission may impose private reprimands, public reprimands, suspensions or revocations as disciplinary measures for misconduct. The Commission may also accept certificates or employment eligibility surrendered by an educator and may include certain conditions with sanctions as well as impose fines and/or fees.
What triggers the discipline system?
The filing of a complaint against an educator by any interested party triggers the Department's review and investigation into the misconduct. The complaints must be in writing on a form created by the Department and must be made subject to the penalties associated with unsworn falsification. Educator Misconduct Complaints
(PDF) are filed with the Department of Education, which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting the matter before the Commission. Anonymous complaints are not accepted. It is the filing of the Notice of Charges by the Department with the Commission that initiates the formal adjudicatory process.
The Educator Discipline Act also requires local school entities to file mandatory reports
(PDF) with the Department on: (1) any educator who has been provided with notice of intent to dismiss or remove for cause, notice of removal from eligibility lists for cause, or notice of intent not to reemploy for cause; (2) any educator who has been arrested or convicted of any crime that is graded a misdemeanor or felony; (3) any educator against whom there are any allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse or exploitation involving a child or student (no longer requires administrator to have reasonable cause to believe the allegations before reporting); (4) any educator where there is reasonable cause to suspect that he or she has caused physical injury to a child or student as the result of negligence or malice; (5) any educator who has resigned or retired or otherwise separated from employment after a school entity has received information of
alleged misconduct under the Educator Discipline Act; (6) any educator who is the subject of a report filed by the school entity under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to child protective services); and (7) any educator who the school entity knows to have been named as a perpetrator of an indicated or founded report under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63.
All reports must be filed with PDE within 15 days of discovery.
In addition, all educators under the jurisdiction of the Commission must file a mandatory report with PDE whenever they know of any conduct or inaction of another educator which may constitute sexual misconduct or sexual abuse or exploitation. The educator must also report the misconduct to their supervisor and to the chief school administrator.
What procedural steps are in place to ensure that the discipline system is fair?
The Commission is committed to ensuring that the disciplinary process is fair and efficient. Thus, the Educator Discipline Act provides for certain procedural safeguards including the right to written charges, the right to counsel, and the right to a hearing. Further, the disciplinary process remains confidential unless or until discipline is imposed.
What are an educator's responsibilities to the profession?
Every educator has a duty to uphold the values set forth in the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators. Educators have responsibilities to their students, their colleagues, their employer, their profession and their community. Foremost, the educator, who is a role model and a fiduciary, must make all reasonable efforts to protect students from conditions that are harmful or detrimental to their learning or safety.
Can a certificate or employment eligibility that is revoked or suspended ever be reinstated?
The Commission has the authority to reinstate certificates or employment eligibility revoked, surrendered or suspended when to do so would be “just and proper.” The Educator Discipline Act, however, bars reinstatement if the underlying misconduct involved sexual abuse or exploitation. In addition, an educator whose certificate was revoked as the result of a conviction of a crime listed in section 111(e) of the Public School Code is also barred from reinstatement.
Does the public have access to disciplinary records of the Commission?
Under the Educator Discipline Act, all information relating to a disciplinary proceeding, including the complaint, is confidential until public discipline is actually imposed. In the event that a complaint is dismissed or that the proceeding is resolved in favor of the educator, the Act prohibits disclosure of any information. Violations of the confidentiality proscriptions can result in criminal charges. Petitions can be filed with the Commission, however, requesting permission to release confidential information in those limited circumstances where release would be proper. The confidentiality provisions of the Act do not apply to proceedings based solely on criminal indictments or convictions for an offense found in section 111(e) of the Public School Code or involving moral turpitude or based on reciprocal discipline.
Does the imposition of discipline impact the retirement benefits of an educator?
Under the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act (43 P.S. §1311 et seq .), conviction of certain crimes (which generally relate to theft and fraud) will result in forfeiture of an educator's retirement benefits, if the educator or other public employee was able to commit the crime by virtue of his/her position. In addition, if a school employee commits a crime set forth in Subchapter B of the Chapter 31 (Sex Offenses) of Title 18 (Crimes Code) against a student, the forfeiture provisions are triggered.
How do I file a complaint against an educator?
are available on-line or can be obtained by calling the Department of Education's Legal Office (717) 787-5500. Questions concerning the form and filing a complaint should be directed to the Legal Office.
Can I find out about whether an educator is being investigated?
Under the Educator Discipline Act, all investigations are confidential until or unless discipline is actually imposed with the exception of cases arising solely on the basis of a criminal indictment or conviction for an offense found in section 111(e) of the Public School Code or involving moral turpitude or on the basis of reciprocal discipline.
Does the Commission take action against an educator who has not met the Act 48 requirements?
No. Failure to satisfy one's Act 48 requirements is not professional misconduct which necessitates discipline. Rather, a lack of the mandated continuing education credits will precipitate placing a certificate in inactive status by the Department. Further information concerning Act 48 can be found on the Department's website.
Do districts have a responsibility to report educator misconduct?
The chief administrative officer of a school entity must report (1) any educator who has been provided with notice of intent to dismiss or remove for cause, notice of removal from eligibility lists for cause, or notice of intent not to reemploy for cause; (2) any educator who has been arrested or convicted of any crime that is graded a misdemeanor or felony; (3) any educator against whom there are any allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse or exploitation involving a child or student (no longer requires administrator to have reasonable cause to believe the allegations before reporting); (4) any educator where there is reasonable cause to suspect that he or she has caused physical injury to a child or student as the result of negligence or malice; (5) any educator who has resigned or retired or otherwise separated from employment after a school entity has received information of alleged misconduct under the Educator Discipline Act; (6) any educator who is the subject of a report filed by the school entity under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to child protective services); and (7) any educator who the school entity knows to have been named as a perpetrator of an indicated or founded report under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63.
All reports must be filed with PDE within 15 days of discovery of the reportable information.