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Ohio Appellate Court Upholds Teacher License Revocation

In Routson-Gim-Belluardo v. Ohio Dept. of Edn., 2017-Ohio-2611, an Ohio appellate court “affirmed the resolution of the Ohio State Board of Education [“State Board”] to revoke [a teacher’s] teaching license for engaging in conduct unbecoming an educator” where the evidence showed that the teacher gave students information in advance of taking a standardized test that was used to determine the students’ academic growth as part of a Student Learning Objective (“SLO”).

We previously blogged about the local school board termination aspect of this matter, which can be read here. For other blogs involving educator professional misconduct please click here and here.

This case focuses on the State Board’s decision to revoke the teaching license for the professional misconduct aspects underlying the teacher’s termination by the local school board.

In this case, the teacher selected an SLO that would measure the students’ growth and progress for the academic component of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. The SLO test that the teacher selected consisted of a list of 10 words for each grade level which did not change from test to test. The teacher administered the test at the beginning and end of the school year and at least one additional time for a quarterly report. Prior to the winter and spring breaks, the teacher also enlarged the words that the students missed, printed them out, and sent the words home with those students to study. “By the time [the teacher] administered the [SLO test] to her students in April 2014, some of her students had been assessed on some of the same words multiple times (October and one or two other times) and had also been given the words to study. According to the April 2014 SLO test results, all of [the teacher’s] students met or exceeded the expectation of one full grade level of academic growth or progress.” Routson at ¶ 7.

Upon receipt of the SLO scores, the local superintendent placed the teacher on leave for academic fraud and the local school board commenced termination proceedings.

Separate from the local school board’s termination proceedings, the State Board “issued a notice letter to [the teacher], informing her of the [State] Board’s intention to determine whether to limit, suspend, revoke, or permanently revoke her five-year” professional license. Routson at ¶ 10. The matter proceeded to hearing, where the hearing officer found that the State Board proved that the teacher “had engaged in ‘conduct unbecoming an educator’ when she gave words to her students to study prior to being “tested on some of those same words on the SLO test she administered to them.” Routson at ¶ 11. The teacher appealed the State Board’s decision and the Ohio appellate court affirmed.

This case contains a number of instructive findings for Ohio educators regarding the educator misconduct process. First, in response to the teacher’s argument that she did not intend to benefit herself by her actions, the appellate court found that “R.C. 3319.31 [which governs the suspension, revocation, or limitation of professional licenses] does not require intent, and the phrase ‘conduct unbecoming’ encompasses a wide variety of conduct, including ‘misconduct that negatively reflect[s] upon the teaching profession.’” Routson at ¶ 27. “By giving her students the exact words on the [SLO test] to study, [the teacher’s] conduct gave her students an unfair advantage, regardless of [the teacher’s] subjective intent.” Routson at ¶ 28. Thus, the Ohio appellate court found that a teacher’s intent is completely irrelevant for purposes of determining professional misconduct.

The appellate court also recognized that “[n]either this court nor the trial court is comprised of professional educators. [As a result, when courts] are reviewing decisions from administrative agencies mandated to oversee their particular fields of interest, [courts] generally consider the agency’s interpretation of a statute it must administer, as long as the interpretation is reasonable.” Routson at ¶ 31. This finding suggests that educators who are appealing from the State Board’s professional misconduct rulings might be unlikely to obtain relief in all but the most extreme cases.

To read this case, please click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and Patrick Vrobel

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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