New Proposal To Speed Teacher Conduct Cases Praised By American Federation Of Teachers

Ken Feinberg

Today, Ken Feinberg — who has, among other things, overseen the compensation fund for the BP oil spill, administered the 9/11 victims compensation fund, and examined compensation packages at bailed out banks on behalf of the Obama administration — outlined a new procedural framework for adjudicating teacher misconduct cases, at the request of the American Federation of Teachers. As Feinberg wrote, the proposal is meant to streamline due process producedures for “objective allegations of teacher wrongdoing such as criminal offenses in the classroom, abusive practices toward students, and discrimination.”

At the moment, it takes far too long in many school districts to complete an inquiry into teacher misconduct and, if necessary, dismiss a teacher for wrongdoing. In New York, for instance, the process can take as long as 18 months. An L.A. Times investigation found that “building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don’t make the effort except in the most egregious cases.” Feinberg’s proposal aims to dramatically shrink that timeframe:

This proposal sets forth a procedure for addressing issues of teacher discipline designed to be both fair and efficient. The process is tailored to provide specific notice of allegations that can be addressed and resolved in a manner consistent with fairness and due process within a period of no more than 100 days…This procedure for teacher discipline does not provide for an appeal by either party from the decision except what is provided by state law.

An expedited timeframe would help to both ensure that teachers who truly committed acts of misconduct worthy of dismissal can’t hang around in the school district for months, and quickly clear the name of teachers who were wrongly accused. “On first review, Ken Feinberg has developed a thoughtful and common sense approach for addressing accusations of teacher wrongdoing — a rare but serious problem in schools,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “It’s a template for a process that is fairer and more efficient than the laws currently on the books.”

Importantly, the proposal also differentiates between dismissals that have to do with conduct and dismissals for ineffective teaching, the latter of which, Feinberg noted, raise “an entirely different set of issues for another day.” As Robin Chait explained, “districts should have a separate process for dealing with unprofessional conduct and inappropriate behavior. Districts should not invest scarce resources in a remediation plan for teachers who have been excessively late or absent, for example.”