New York State Education Law 3020-a - The method used to hold a hearing and discipline a tenured employee.
You’re a tenured teacher in New York State. You just received Education Law Section 3020-a charges (“3020-a charges”). NOW WHAT?
Under New York State Education Law Section 3020a, a school district may bring charges (often referred to as “specifications”) against a tenured teacher. These charges are commonly sandwiches into one of two categories – “incompetence” or “misconduct” charges.
“Incompetence” charges relate to a teacher’s performance of his/her duties; how organized the classroom is, how engaging the teacher is, how well the teacher manages his/her classroom, how well the teacher lesson plans, etc. They are largely subjective in nature in that they often come about based on a supervisor’s opinion of a teacher’s pedagogy.
“Misconduct” charges relate to a teacher’s conduct in (and sometimes out of) school. They can involve charges of verbal abuse or corporal punishment, neglect of duty (e.g. failing to supervise students), insubordination, fraud, etc. These charges are largely objective in nature, in that they generally are not based on a supervisor’s opinion of one’s performance, but rather objective measures, such as witness statements, investigative reports, etc. Of course, there is a degree of subjectivity for such measures, but compared to “incompetence” charges, “misconduct” charges are the more objective of the two.
Once a teacher has been charged with 3020-a charges, he/she should immediately contact his/her union so as to request a hearing. Failure to timely request a hearing can result in an automatic finding of guilt against a teacher.
Additionally, it is highly suggested that a charged teacher contact an attorney immediately, whether it be a union attorney or a private attorney. Preparing an adequate defense can be time-consuming and demanding. It is much better to start earlier than later.
In order to prevail at a 3020-a hearing, a school district must prove the charges against a tenured teacher by a “preponderance of the evidence.” That means, in colloquial terms, that the charged conduct is “more likely than not” to have occurred. If the district proves the charges by a preponderance of the evidence, then it will be up to the hearing officer to determine the adequate penalty, or “award,” for the tenured teacher.
Because so much rests in the hands of the arbitrator, or hearing officer, that will be conducting your case, it is important to research this individual. At Glass Krakower LLP, we immediately submit requests under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”) to obtain any and all decisions that arbitrators have rendered. We also have experience with the majority of arbitrators, so feel free to contact us with any questions you may have regarding your assigned arbitrator.
The most important thing to do upon being served with 3020-a charges is to NOT PANIC. The process is slow and deliberate, and with proper preparation, patience and a positive attitude, you can prevail.
You can read some favorable hearing officers' decisions for clients of Mr. Harlow's below.