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Discipline Process Overview

Both the PSPC and the Department of Education (Department) play an important role in the professional educator discipline system. The Department has responsibility for complaint intake and investigation and prosecution of disciplinary cases before the PSPC. The PSPC's jurisdiction is invoked with the filing of a Notice of Charges by the Department against a specific educator. The authority to impose discipline after charges are filed rests with the PSPC; however, its decisions can be appealed to the Commonwealth Court. As a general rule, the disciplinary process flows as described below.  In cases involving certain criminal arrests or convictions and reciprocal discipline, the process may be abbreviated in accordance with the Act.

Overall Process

Step 1:  Filing a Complaint 

Any interested party may file an Educator Misconduct Complaint with the Department within one year from the date of the alleged misconduct or the date of the discovery of the alleged misconduct. If the misconduct is of a continuing nature, the interested party has one year from the last date on which the conduct occurred. Complaints involving sexual abuse or exploitation may be filed up to five years after the child/student victim reaches 18 years of age.

Step 2:  Legal Sufficiency Review 

After initial review to determine if the educator holds Pennsylvania certification or is employed in a charter or cyber charter school in a position for which certification would be required in a traditional public school, the Department is responsible for determining whether the allegations contained in the complaint are legally sufficient. A complaint is legally sufficient if the facts alleged in the complaint, if accepted as true, would be sufficient to warrant discipline under the Act. If it is determined that legal sufficiency is lacking, the complaint is dismissed and the teacher and complainant are so notified by the Department. Similarly, if legal sufficiency is found, the Department notifies the affected educator of the complaint and the current and/or prior employing school entity. The complaint then progresses to the next level of review.

Step 3: Preliminary Investigation, Probable Cause Review and Full Investigation 

If legal sufficiency is found, the Department will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether probable cause exists to proceed. The preliminary investigation typically may be limited to a review of documents submitted by the employing school entity, the educator and the complainant.

If probable cause is not found, the Department notifies the affected educator, the complainant, and the employer, where appropriate, that the complaint has been dismissed. Similarly, notice that probable cause has been found is issued to the relevant parties by the Department.

If probable cause is found, the Department initiates a full investigation.  After the investigation, the Department may elect to dismiss the complaint either because professional discipline is not warranted or because there is insufficient evidence to establish the misconduct, determine that action taken by the local employing school is  sufficient, enter into a negotiated settlement of the complaint or initiate formal hearing proceedings by filing a Notice of Charges with the PSPC.

Step 4:   Filing of Notice of Charges 

The formal adjudicatory process is initiated with the filing of a Notice of Charges against an educator with the PSPC.  The Notice of Charges must set forth the grounds for discipline and the factual allegations in support thereof. Charges are served on the affected educator by certified mail and the educator has 30 days in which to file a responsive pleading and to request a hearing. In cases where the Department seeks an Immediate Suspension of an teacher's certification or requests an expedited hearing, the time period for response is abbreviated. Failure to respond to the Notice of Charges by the educator may result in the imposition of discipline based on the factual allegations contained in the charges.

Step 5: Intervention 

Under the Act, the local employing school in which the affected professional educator is and/or was last employed may intervene in the case. If an employing school entity elects not to intervene, it is not entitled to receive information about the progress of the case until or if discipline is imposed.  School entities that intervene may participate in the case, including the hearing.

Step 6 Hearings 

When factual matters are in dispute, the case will be assigned to one of the PSPC's hearing officers. The hearing officers are independent attorneys who are under contract to act as presiding officers in hearings pursuant to the General Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure.

Under the Rules, the hearing officers are granted authority to hold pre-hearing conferences, to conduct a fair and impartial hearing, to rule on evidentiary questions, and to dispose of procedural matters. A hearing officer is prohibited, however, from making a final determination of the case except through a proposed report to the PSPC. The PSPC is charged with making all final determinations.

Upon completion of the hearing, the hearing officer prepares a proposed report containing findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommending discipline where appropriate. Parties to the case, excluding the intervening school entity, may file an appeal of the proposed report to the PSPC within 30 days after the decision is issued. If exceptions are filed, the PSPC may accept, modify or reject the hearing officer's decision as the PSPC is the ultimate fact finder. In the event, however, that no exceptions are filed, the proposed decision becomes final and the PSPC is without authority to alter it.

Step  7:  Appeals 

Decisions of the PSPC are considered to be "adjudications," which is defined  as any final order, decree, decision, determination or ruling by an agency affecting personal or property rights, privileges, immunities, duties, liabilities or obligations. As adjudications, decisions of the PSPC are appealable to the Commonwealth Court by either the Department or the educator. Unless the PSPC has made a determination that the educator poses a threat to the health, safety or welfare of students or other persons in the schools or Commonwealth, an appeal of a PSPC's decision acts as a stay of the discipline.

Types of Disciplinary Sanctions

The Act outlines the following types of discipline:

  • Private Reprimand – a confidential admonishment to the educator for his or her conduct. A reprimand does not invalidate an educator's certification or eligibility to be employed in a charter or cyber charter school, but may be used against an educator in subsequent proceeding should future conduct warrant additional discipline. Notice of a private reprimand is not communicated to the field or released to the public.
  • Public Reprimand - an admonishment to the educator for his or her conduct. A reprimand does not invalidate an educator's certification or eligibility to be employed in a charter or cyber charter school but may be used against an educator in a subsequent proceeding should future conduct warrant additional discipline. Notice of a public reprimand is communicated to the public via PENN*LINK and is posted to the Department's website.  In addition, the reprimand is reported to other state jurisdictions through the NASDTEC national clearinghouse.
  • Suspension - a temporary termination of any certificate held by the educator or the eligibility to be employed in a charter or cyber charter school in a position for which certification would be required in a traditional public school, either for a specified period of time or until the educator meets certain conditions. An educator may not be employed in a position for which certification is required or in a charter or cyber charter school during the duration of the suspension. Notice of a suspension is sent to the field via PENN*LINK and is posted to the Department's website.  In addition, the suspension is reported to other state jurisdictions through the NASDTEC national clearinghouse.
  • Immediate Suspension – a temporary termination of any certificate held by the educator or the eligibility to be employed in a charter or cyber charter school in a position for which certification would be required in a traditional public school during the pendency of certain criminal charges when the teacher is deemed to pose a threat to the health, safety or welfare of a student or other individual in a school.
  • Revocation - a termination of all certificates held by the educator or the eligibility to be employed in a charter or cyber charter school in a position for which certification would be required in a traditional public school. An educator whose certificate or employment eligibility has been revoked may not be employed in a position for which certification is required until or unless his or her certificate has been reinstated. Notice of a revocation is sent to the field via PENN*LINK and is posted on the Department's website.  In addition, the revocation is reported to other state jurisdictions through the NASDTEC national clearinghouse.
  • Surrender in Lieu of Discipline - when an educator surrenders his or her certification or employment eligibility after a complaint has been filed, the effect is the same as revocation. An educator whose certificate has been surrendered may not be employed in a position for which certification is required until or unless his or her certificate or eligibility has been reinstated. Notice of a surrender is sent to the field via PENN*LINK and is posted on the Department's website.  In addition, the surrender is reported to other state jurisdictions through the NASDTEC national clearinghouse.