When the Professional Standards and Practices Commission first envisioned
providing an on-line resource to the educational community, it wanted the focus
to be on assisting educators in developing a framework for ethical
decision-making and not merely a tutorial on the types of misconduct cases that
come before the Commission. A key motivation to the Commission’s approach is
its belief that it should not be assumed that students and/or teachers
inherently have strong moral compasses. Some educators may not be prepared to
handle appropriately the intricate interpersonal relationships intrinsic to the
profession of teaching. The safety and well-being of students and the integrity
of the education profession is too important to leave the accumulation of the
requisite knowledge to chance. The Commission and its partners are committed to
offering support to the education community to ensure that educators:
- understand the fiduciary nature of their relationship with students;
- recognize the appropriate student-teacher boundaries;
- internalize the values set forth in the Code of Professional Practice and
- accept the responsibilities associated with being a role model;
- recognize ethical dilemmas;
- appreciate the consequences of engaging in misconduct; and
- understand the professional educator discipline system.
Case study approach
In fashioning the Toolkit, the
Commission unanimously agreed that the dilemmas of the complex art of teaching
could best be presented within the context of case studies. Case studies
provide a platform for examining and considering contextual factors and varied
perspectives, which often impact an understanding of professional challenges.
Case studies also encourage self-reflection and the integration of professional
standards into practice.
The case studies developed by Dr. Dreon were designed to elicit discussion,
to assist students and/or teachers to recognize ethical dilemmas, to identify
different responses to the dilemmas, and to measure the impact of the course of
Borrowing from work that the College of Teachers in Ontario has published, we
offer the following structure to facilitate the cases:
Identify the facts: Who? What? Where? When? Allows the
participants to have a shared and common understanding of the facts presented in
Identify the issues: Identify the issues presented by the
cases, and analyze the issue from differing perspectives, including the teacher,
the administration, the students and the public.
Reflect on educator’s conduct: Explore the educator’s
conduct and generate alternative solutions or approaches. Discuss whether there
could have been any effective intervention to avoid problems triggered by
educator’s choices. Consider the impact of the educator’s conduct on the
student (where appropriate), colleagues, the school community, the public.
Link conduct to Code and other standards of conduct:
Identify the professional standards of conduct that may have been breached or
implicated by the conduct.
Generally, when facilitating the case study dialogue, you will recognize that
there might not be a “bright line” response for the issue posed by the case.
The many factors to consider were intended to allow for rich discussion.
Nonetheless, there are certain fact patterns in some of the case studies that
would, or could, have serious consequences on an educator’s certification status
in Pennsylvania. We would be remiss if we did not identify those cases and
provide you with some practice pointers to assist your facilitation of the
discussion with your students or teachers. Such cases are discussed below by
Unit by case number.
Unit 1: The Ethical Teacher
Case 1: This case is based on an actual event in Connecticut
Case 4: Despite standard acceptable use policies in every
school and the myriad of cases in which educators are fired for accessing
sexually explicit materials on school district equipment (including laptops),
the Commission still sees several of these cases each year. Educators need to
be reminded that they have no reasonable expectation in privacy in materials
viewed, accessed, written or stored on a school district computer.
As a general rule, the Commission has imposed either a revocation or a
suspension in cases involving such unacceptable use. Factors that may militate
against a revocation include the extent/frequency of the usage, whether it was
done during instructional time, whether students did or could have been exposed
to the materials, and the nature of the materials accessed.
To read actual Commission cases in which educators were disciplined for
accessing sexually explicit materials. Adjudications and Orders
Examples of computer misconduct cases
Video Case The video case study addresses the issue of
contract abandonment. As you know, in Pennsylvania the Public School Code of
1949 dictates the content of a professional contract, including a provision that
provides for a 60 day notice prior to a resignation becoming effective (24 P.S.
§11-1121). For many of our larger and/or urban districts, the failure of
educators to provide such notice wreaks havoc with effective management of
schools, particularly at the beginning of the school year. Teachers need to
understand that they are signing a contractual agreement and to take their
obligations under the contract seriously.
Unlike many states, however, Pennsylvania does not have any statutory
provision providing for specific discipline when a teacher breaches his or her
contract by failing to give adequate notice. Several of our sister states, like
Maryland, Georgia and Nebraska (as reflected in the video), have specific
statutory provisions that allow for the imposition of a suspension or revocation
under these circumstances.
At a minimum, failure to provide the requisite notice (aka contract
abandonment) may be a violation of the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct
for Education for which a reprimand may be imposed. Teachers should be cautioned
that a complaint with the Department of Education may be filed against them if
they fail to provide the 60 day notice. It is always recommended that teachers
work with their employer to obtain permission for less notice in the event that
there are exigent circumstances.
Unit 2: Private & Professional Lives
Under Pennsylvania law, there does not have to be a direct nexus between the
alleged misconduct and the school environment. Thus, many educators are
disciplined by the Commission for conduct that occurs outside of school or
“off-duty” as it is colloquially known. Thus, it is important that educators
keep “private, consensual behavior” private. For example, viewing sexually
explicit materials on a home computer is not illegal (compare sexually explicit
materials with child pornography), but the same behavior will have employment
and certification consequences if done at school or on school equipment even if
home (i.e., school issued laptop).
The other consideration for educators is controlling their public brand – how
they want to be perceived by their students, the parents of their students,
their administration, their peers and the public at large. As even more evident
in the unit on technology, our notions of privacy are changing as our ability to
control or protect our private lives. That is why educators must be vigilant in
ensuring that they protect their privacy and ensure that their public actions
comport with their vision of how they want to be perceived.
Case 2: Any conduct that results in a criminal conviction by
definition calls into question an individual’s judgment and perhaps character.
With the imposition of zero tolerance in our schools for alcohol use and the
expectation that an educator is a role model, convictions for driving under the
influence may have employment and certification consequences. While a
conviction for driving under the influence is not one of the criminal offenses
that necessitates revocation, factors such as the existence of similar
convictions, whether anyone was specifically endangered, whether the arrest or
substance abuse occurred on school property or going or leaving school, will be
considered in the decision of whether you will be prosecuted and/or disciplined
by the Department and the Commission, respectively.
It is also important to remind educators that under the recent amendments to
section 111 of the Public School Code, schools may not hire anyone for a period
of three years after more than one conviction for driving under the influence of
alcohol or controlled substance when the second offense is graded as a
misdemeanor of the first degree. 24 P.S. §1-111(f)(3).
Pre-service students should be cognizant that upon application for
certification they will be asked to disclose: whether they have ever been
convicted of a crime classified as a misdemeanor or felony in Pennsylvania or
any other state, territory or country; whether there are criminal charges
pending against them; or whether they are the subject of an inquiry or
investigation by a law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania or any other state,
territory or country. (Note misdemeanors do not need to be reported at this
When such an offense is reported, the Department will conduct a good moral character review to determine the candidate’s eligibility for certification.
It is important to understand that for any applicant who has committed a
crime resulting in placement in an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)
program or who has been convicted of a crime resulting in probation or parole
and who has not yet completed all of the requirements of the ARD, probation or
parole, there is a strong presumption that the applicant currently lacks good
moral character to receive certification.
Case 3: While felony convictions under the Controlled
Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act result in mandatory revocations under
the Professional Educator Discipline Act, convictions for a lesser drug offense
do not mandate discipline. Accordingly, the Department of Education will, if it
receives a complaint, review the conduct underlying the conviction to determine
if it warrants professional discipline. The fact that the offending conduct did
not occur on school grounds or during the school day is not determinative for
the Department. Of course, if in fact the conduct did occur on school grounds
or during the day, these factors would in all likelihood impact the Department’s
Case 4: Once again even though the conduct was not
connected to the school, the educator was arrested for conduct involving
fraud/falsehood. If convicted of a theft crime that has fraud or dishonesty as
one of its defined elements, the Commission would have no choice but to revoke
the educator’s certification under the provisions in the Professional Educator
Discipline Act relating to crimes involving moral turpitude.
Cases involving convictions for theft crimes can be found at: Adjudications and Orders
Enter the term “theft” in the search box.
Also, remember that under the new amendments to section 111 of the Public
School Code of 1949, educators who have been convicted of any felony or
misdemeanor of the first degree are prohibited from employment in any school for
a period of 10 or 5 years, respectively.
Case 5: The facts in this case are drawn from an early
discipline case in which the educator’s certification was revoked because he was
convicted of the federal crime of Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods, which is a
crime involving moral turpitude. The case was appealed to the Commonwealth
Court of Pennsylvania, which held that the Commission had no choice but to
revoke when presented with a certified copy of a conviction for any crime
involving moral turpitude. In these cases, the Commission is prohibited from
even considering the actual underlying facts in mitigation of a disciplinary
DI-94-23 Kinniry, Francis
Kinniry v. Professional Standards and
Practices Commission, 678 A.2d 1230 (Commonwealth Ct. 1996)
Video Library: Private Life v. Public Role
I would highly recommend the fictional case study and panel discussion
presented in the video library in this unit. With an escalating fact pattern,
the moderator asks each participant to indicate at what point the educator’s off
duty conduct implicates their continued suitability or employability.
Video Case Study
The video depicts an educator who
attempted to procure a meeting with a minor from his home computer. The “minor”
turned out to be a police officer ala Catch a Predator. Most likely,
the educator would be charged with an offense under Chapter 31 of the Crimes
Code (relating to sexual offenses) and, if convicted, would be subject to
mandatory and permanent revocation of his certification. Moreover, the
Commission may immediately suspend an educator who has been charged with an
offense involving moral turpitude or an offense listed in section 111(e) of the
Public School Code if the Commission believes that the educator poses a threat
to the health, safety or welfare of a student or other individual in a school.
24 P.S. §2070.9b.
Unit 3: Relationships with Students
Approximately 60-70% of the cases that are brought under the Professional
Educator Discipline Act involve sexual misconduct by educators. The misconduct
may occur with students or with minors outside of school. It is irrelevant to
the Commission if the student is above the age of consent in Pennsylvania. For
our purposes, a student cannot consent to sexual activity with an educator.
Also, the term sexual misconduct is defined very broadly by the Commission
and includes conduct known as “grooming”. Grooming refers to purposeful actions
taken with the goal of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with
a child/student, in order to lower the child/student's inhibitions in
preparation for sexual activity with the child/student, or exploitation. The
concept covers such conduct as encouraging time alone with the student, giving
gifts to the student, contacting the student out of school and discussing
matters of a purely personal nature with the student.
In many cases, an educator makes one decision to cross the appropriate
student-teacher boundary, which leads to another poor decision and then another,
until the educator finds him or herself in an untenable position. We often call
this the “slippery slope” of boundary violations. Through class discussions of
case studies, we hope that individuals learn to recognize the first wrong
decision and develop inhibitors preventing further transgressions. Also,
educators who witness such transgressions should realize that early intervention
may prevent a student from becoming a victim and an educator from losing his or
Case 1: If the educator had left the party after
discovering students were drinking, would she have protected herself from any
negative employment or certification consequences? Does she have a duty to
report the drinking to the school, to the authorities or to the parents?
Case 2: This case reflects some of those “first steps” in
crossing the student-teacher boundary. At any point did the teacher’s actions
stop serving a legitimate educational purpose? Is the teacher’s tutoring and
reward system in concert with school policy? Is it consistently applied with all
students that he tutors or only Melissa?
Case 3: The case begs the question of whose needs are
being met by this relationship. Educators, like anyone else, have emotional
baggage and issues. When is it, or is it ever, appropriate to discuss one’s
personal life with students?
Case 4: An educator has a duty to protect students from
harm. Is the teacher here fulfilling his duty? Should teachers make a promise
to keep confidential information shared by a student? Is counseling a legitimate
role for a classroom teacher?
Case 5: Again, whose needs are being met by the coach’s
investment in the student? Did good intentions go awry?
Unit 4: The Connected Teacher
School administrators have been struggling with providing appropriate
guidance concerning communications with students through social media, emails,
instant messaging and texting. Many schools still do not have policies and it
might be interesting to have the participants draft a policy addressing the use
of social media and appropriate student-teacher interactions.
Really, the rules for appropriate interactions with students remain the same
no matter whether the communications is in person, on the telephone, through
social media or other digital method. The real challenge for educators is
protecting their privacy in an era where the public has increased access to
information. Educators need to be vigilant in keeping private behavior
In many of the cases involving educator behavior that may be unseemly (i.e.,
posting pictures reflecting poorly on an educator’s judgment or
professionalism), but that does not involve misconduct with students, the
repercussions are typically limited to employment. Rarely do these cases rise
to the level of misconduct warranting state action against certification.
Case 1: Here we see boundary violations being acted out
through the use of technology. Are there ever any legitimate reasons for a
teacher to be texting students?
Case 2: Is there any misconduct in this fact scenario?
How should the school have reacted when it received the report? What actions
could the teacher have taken to protect her privacy?
ACLU representative states that schools should not be
able to punish a teacher for off-duty conduct unless it is harmful to the
school. Should this be the standard?
Case 3: Just a reminder that a district laptop, even if
being used at home, still belongs to the district and should only be used for
legitimate and authorized instructional purposes.
To read actual Commission cases in which educators were disciplined for
accessing sexually explicit materials, visit the Commission’s website: Adjudications and Orders
Examples of computer misconduct cases
Case 4: Was Ms. L’s conduct inappropriate? Should there
be any employment consequences? Would the answer be different if the students
were in the 2nd grade? In 12th grade?
Case 5: Discussion points: use of school equipment, poor
judgment and intent.
Case 6: Here we have a case of purely consensual private
behavior that became public by a teacher’s carelessness. Discussion point:
appropriate time and place of personal cell phone use.
Unit 5: Teaching in a Diverse Society
All of the cases here demonstrate a lack of
sensitivity and/or an intrusion of one’s personal beliefs into the classroom.
Is it ever appropriate to offer personal/political beliefs on discussion
Unit 6: Improper Personal Gain
Case 1: The fact pattern in this case study is based on
an actual case that came before the Commission. Francis Kinniry was a tenured
professional employee of the Abington School District. In 1993, Kinniry pled
guilty to the federal offense of Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods (selling
counterfeit designer watches). On September 28, 1993 the Abington School
District brought charges against Kinniry on the grounds that his conduct
offended the morals of the community and set a bad example for students
immorality. On November 23, 1993, the Board terminated Kinniry's employment as a
professional employee in the District on the grounds of immorality.
In its prosecution of this case under the then controlling decertification
statute, the Department of Education argued and the Commission agreed, that
Kinniry had been convicted of Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods, which was a
crime of moral turpitude.
Moral turpitude has been defined as:
- That element and personal misconduct in the private and social duties which
a person owes to his follow human beings or to society in general, which
characterizes the act done as an act of baseness, vileness or depravity, and
contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between two human
- Conduct done knowingly contrary to justice, honesty or good morals.
- Intentional, knowing or reckless conduct causing bodily injury to another or
intentional, knowing or reckless conduct which, by physical menace, puts another
in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
22 Pa. Code §237.9(a).
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Commission’s decision, which can be
accessed at: Adjudications and Orders
In determining whether a crime “involves” moral turpitude, the Commission
reviews the definition of the crime in the Crimes Code and then compares that
definition against the definition of moral turpitude. If it is determined that
the crime falls within the definition of moral turpitude, then the Commission
must revoke the certification. The Commission is not permitted to look at the
actual facts of the case, although such facts can be reviewed in determining
whether reinstatement is appropriate.
Cases 2-4 All of the cases in this Unit involve
misconduct that contains an element of fraud or dishonesty. Fraud and
dishonesty are the underpinnings of the concept of moral turpitude and thus in
any case where there is a criminal conviction for a crime that is defined in
terms of fraud and dishonesty, the Commission would most likely find that the
crime involves moral turpitude thereby necessitating revocation.
Similarly, there would typically be serious employment consequences as
Finally, it is important to note that certain criminal convictions of public
employees can lead to forfeiture of an educator’s retirement pension. The
Pension Forfeiture Act requires forfeiture of all pension and retirement
benefits by any SERS member who commits certain crimes that breach the member's
duty of faithful and honest public service. Also forfeited are any benefits for
the member's beneficiaries and survivor annuitants.
The only benefits not forfeited are the contributions paid into the pension
fund, without interest. Even these contributions may be lost, however, because
the law requires they be used to pay fines and restitution associated with the
Forfeiture is triggered if a SERS member is convicted of or pleads guilty or
no defense to any listed crime committed through the member's public office or
position or when public employment puts the member in a position to commit the
The Pennsylvania crimes that trigger forfeiture are listed below and are
found in 43 P.S. § 1312. All federal crimes substantially the same as these
state crimes also are covered.
- Any of the criminal offenses set forth in Subchapter B of Chapter 31
(relating to definition of offenses) when the criminal offense is committed by a
school employee as defined in 24 Pa. C.S. §8102 (relating to definitions)
against a student.
- Section 3922 (relating to theft by deception) when the criminal culpability
reaches the level of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher.
- Section 3923 (relating to theft by extortion) when the criminal culpability
reaches the level of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher.
- Section 3926 (relating to theft of services) when the criminal culpability
reaches the level of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher.
- Section 3927 (relating to theft by failure to make required disposition of
funds received), when the criminal culpability reaches the level of a
misdemeanor of the first degree or higher.
- Section 4101 (relating to forgery)
- Section 4104 (relating to tampering with records or identification)
- Section 4113 (relating to misapplication of entrusted property and property
of government or financial institutions) when the criminal culpability reaches
the level of misdemeanor of the second degree.
- Section 4701 (relating to bribery in official and political matters)
- Section 4702 (relating to threats and other improper influence in official
and political matters)
- Section 4902 (relating to perjury)
- Section 4903(a) (relating to false swearing)
- Section 4904 (relating to unsworn falsification to authorities)
- Section 4906 (relating to false reports to law enforcement authorities)
- Section 4909 (relating to witness or informant taking bribe)
- Section 4910 (relating to tampering with or fabricating physical evidence)
- Section 4911 (relating to tampering with public records or information)
- Section 4952 (relating to intimidation of witnesses or victims)
- Section 4953 (relating to retaliation against witness, victim or party)
- Section 5101 (relating to obstructing administration of law or other
- Section 5301 (relating to official oppression)
- Section 5302 (relating to speculating or wagering on official action or
Article III, act of March 4, 1971 (P.L. 6, No. 2), known as the
"Tax Reform Act"
Unit 7: The Ethical Colleague
Unit 8: Fostering an Ethical School Climate
The case studies in these units mostly involve inappropriate conduct by an
educator that is directly observed/experienced by a colleague or communicated to
a colleague. These cases explore what responsibilities a colleague has to
protect students and to report misconduct of another colleague. Some of the
“misconduct” may appear trifling, but it begs the question of whether there is
other misconduct lurking below the surface.
What are an educator’s responsibilities to the profession at large? to the
students? Do these responsibilities trump any responsibilities to one’s
colleagues? The Code of Conduct does speak to the primary duty to protect
students from conditions that interfere with learning or are harmful to the
student’s health and safety (Section 4(10)). It also discusses professional
relationships with colleagues in section 10. How does an educator reconcile
what may appear to be competing interests/duties to students, colleagues and the
Is there a climate in school organizations against reporting educators to the
administration? What are appropriate interventions when an educator recognizes
that a colleague may be heading for trouble?
A few of the case studies involve student assessments. Issues surrounding
appropriate testing protocols have received widespread national attention.
Educators in various states (Maryland, Kentucky, District of Columbia, Ohio,
Georgia) including Pennsylvania have found themselves facing employment and
certification sanctions for alleged “cheating.” These cases have involved both
discrete instances of misconduct as well as allegations of widespread systemic
cheating. In some cases, educators complain that they have been ordered to
cheat or been pressured into cheating to obtain better results. Some discussion
points include: how to respond to subtle and not so subtle pressure to diverge
from testing protocols or cheat; what actions to take if you become aware of
cheating; what is the impact of cheating on school or on students.
We would also like to offer you the opportunity to discuss any of the case
studies or the professional educator discipline system generally with us. We
welcome your suggestions and comments as well. We would also recommend that
facilitators encourage students/educators to develop their own case studies for
discussion. The development of a case and resultant discussion can be very
meaningful for participants.
Finally, the Commission is available to provide workshops to students and/or
faculty or to work with your staff in creating instructional materials related
to professional ethics and professional discipline. Contact information: