Consequences may be coming for teachers who quit early or mid-year

To combat the growing trend of teachers breaching signed contracts, the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) plans to spread awareness of the impact on students and careers.

The commission’s executive committee believes there’s confusion at the local level about PSC rulings and discipline options. Human resources departments, school boards and superintendents are missing a training piece, the committee reported. And Idaho Department of Education leaders seem to agree. 

“We’re real serious about people who abandon a contract right before school starts because it hurts kids,” said Ryan Cantrell, IDE chief deputy superintendent. “It hurts Idaho schools and it hurts public education. Some of our superintendents and boards need to be reminded of that.”

The primary way to address the problem, he said, is by “training our boards, superintendents and our staff.”

“We’ve had so many actions of the district tie the hands of the PSC and what we could do for discipline,” said Ramona Lee, the PSC’s vice chairperson and a West Ada special education administrator. 

If an educator signs a contract but leaves, for example, to accept more money with another district, and a complaint is filed with the Idaho Department of Education, the PSC can take action via a letter of reprimand, or a suspension or revocation of the teacher’s license.

Breach of contract is listed as unethical behavior in the state’s code of ethics. For the 2022-23 school year, the PSC received 19 complaints of educators breaching their contracts from the state’s 190 local education agencies (LEA) — schools districts and charter schools.

In June, the PSC will consider creating a guidance document to train administrators and teachers about the pitfalls of breaking a contract and the correct steps to follow when considering an official teacher complaint. Once a district releases a teacher from a contract, the PSC cannot issue disciplinary action.

“We’re unable to take action in many cases,” said Annette Schwab, a PSC ethics specialist.

Lee added, “Breaking the contract because they got a job they like better is very different from breaking the contract because of a medical reason.”

Schwab used Post Falls to illustrate differing local ideas about discipline. Post Falls filed a complaint with the PSC against a previous employee, who resigned in July to work in Washington. 

Dena Naccarato, the Post Falls superintendent, “was a little frustrated after our last PSC meeting when we didn’t discipline their school psychologist. She wanted to propose that we revoke everyone who breaches their contract for non-mental health reasons. She wanted me to share that she was an advocate for revocation to show that Idaho does something about breach of contract,” Schwab said.

Of the 19 complaints received last year, the PSC opened cases against 15 teachers. In five of those cases, educators received a disciplinary letter of reprimand that’s a permanent blemish on their state certification.

Discussion turned to districts that hire educators already under contract and the merits of issuing more certification suspensions against teachers who resign at the start of the year or mid-year. More suspensions mean districts who “snipe” contracted teachers could be hiring a non-certified teacher.

“That would catch a lot more eyes,” said Angela Gillman, the PSC chair.

But suspending a teacher early or mid-year could harm students, who would be left with an uncertified teacher.

Instead, Cantrell suggested delaying an offending teacher’s license suspension until the end of the school year. That way, there would be more time to get a certified teacher in place, minimizing the negative impact on students.

“I would like a suspension certificate because the other district that hired shouldn’t have done that either. I think there’s responsibility on both sides,” Lee said.

Teachers, administrators and school boards need more training, and it’s up to the PSC to provide that for them, the commission agreed this week. The PSC makes recommendations to the State Board of Education about qualifications, standards and ethics. It also investigates code of ethics violations for educators.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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