The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) follows a multi-step process to investigate and discipline teachers. This process, while arduous, provides early opportunities for a teacher to possibly resolve CTC matters with no discipline or reduced discipline. A teacher who has received a notice of investigation from CTC should bring in legal counsel and make the utmost of these early opportunities. For serious cases that cannot be resolved early on, the teacher should understand and appreciate the full legal process provided by law that includes the opportunity for a fair hearing before an impartial judge.
CTC Learns of an Adverse Event
The first step in a CTC case is when the CTC receives a report of an adverse event. Adverse events most often are:
- A report to CTC from a school or school district that a teacher has been disciplined or dismissed by the school; or
- A report to CTC from the Department of Justice that the teacher has suffered a criminal arrest or a criminal conviction.
When CTC receives such reports, a file is opened and additional information may be gathered from the school, court or complaining witnesses. This internal investigation may take some time (months), as CTC, like many agencies, often gathers information at this stage by email and/or mail.
CTC Sends Teacher a “Receipt of Information Letter”
Typically the first notice a teacher receives that CTC is investigating them is a letter from CTC captioned “PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL”. The first line of the letter opens by saying “[t]he California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) is in receipt of information requiring an investigation of your fitness to hold a credential.” The letter continues with a brief description of the information received by the Commission. The letter will ask for a response within 30 days of the letter, requests supporting documents, and includes a specified deadline date. The letter also offers the teacher the opportunity to request a copy of the information received by CTC.
This letter is also a cover letter for other documents. CTC may include a copy of a letter sent to the employer school, school district or other complaining party asking them for more information. CTC also includes in its letter a “RESPONSE FORM” with instructions for the teacher’s response and a list of other items that might be enclosed with the response, such as letters of recommendation. CTC asks that the response letter from the teacher be signed under penalty of perjury.
We tend to see three problems at this stage. The first problem is that the teacher has not kept their mailing address current with CTC, so this notice from CTC never reaches the teacher. CTC usually will not track down the teacher to deliver this letter, it will just move on in the process without getting crucial input from the teacher.
The second problem is that the teacher fails to hire legal counsel and therefore misses the opportunity to put their best foot forward with CTC. Statements and documents sent or not sent to CTC can complicate and aggravate the teacher’s disciplinary case at later stages.
The third problem is the teacher fails to request documents from CTC. An attorney can make this request and then review the information that CTC possesses. The attorney can determine CTC’s concerns and how to best address those concerns in responsive documents.
Teachers should note that at this early stage, the CTC Committee of Credentials reviews documents from any source but does not hold a public hearing or allow participation. A decision whether to proceed to formal review, the next step in the process, is made without a hearing. The teacher’s channel of communication with CTC is in writing and through other documentation, such as letters of recommendation or submitted supporting documents.
CTC Sends the Teacher a Notice of Formal Review
Most CTC teacher investigations proceed to formal review. After the Committee of Credentials conducts the informal review, the matter may be deemed so minor it will not result in any discipline and should be closed. However, as to most matters, a teacher will receive a second letter that on the to top right bears the words “RE: Notice of Formal Review”. The purpose of formal review is to determine if there is probable cause to recommend discipline of a teacher, and if probable cause is found, then to recommend what discipline (such as a suspension of a certain number of days). This letter says that the teacher’s matter will be considered by the CTC Committee of Credentials at one of its three-day meetings in Sacramento. The CTC Notice of Formal Review usually contains certain important opportunities for a teacher:
- Another opportunity to request the CTC’s investigation documents, including those documents gathered during the informal review;
- the option to appear before the CTC Committee of Credentials on the telephone or in person to answer their questions and make a statement;
- the option to have an attorney also appear, in which case the attorney can also make a statement; and
- the option to submit another or further written explanation and other supporting documentation showing mitigation or rehabilitation to the CTC Committee of Credentials.
Formal review is the teacher’s crucial opportunity to persuade the CTC to close the case or impose only a modest penalty. Some cases are too serious to be closed or resolved for a lesser penalty such as a short suspension. However, CTC has a strong incentive to clear its caseload of less serious cases before those cases enter administrative litigation. It is up to the teacher and the teacher’s attorney to provide CTC with key information to help CTC see the full picture and reach a fair conclusion.
Once a matter has moved to formal review, the stakes are higher. CTC no longer provides a separate form with instructions, and little information about how to participate and what to do is provided in the notice letter. If a teacher either failed to receive notice of the informal review, failed to respond to that letter, or responded ineffectively, formal review becomes a crucial opportunity to make their case for dismissal or a lower penalty. As is apparent in the Notice of Formal Review letter, CTC is starting to move more decisively and the process is more adversarial. At this point a teacher may start to understandably feel overwhelmed by the process.
The Formal Review Hearing
A teacher may appear at formal review in-person or over the telephone. Although we lack exact statistics, since formal review went 100% remote (telephonic) during the pandemic, appearing by telephone now seems to be the rule, and appearing in-person the exception. Committee members themselves may participate by phone, so an in-person appearance at the CTC office in Sacramento may actually result in limited or no face-to-face contact with Committee members. Since formal reviews tend to be brief and telephonic proceedings are well established, we usually recommend participation by telephone.
Committee members have an opportunity to directly ask questions of the teacher. Questioning can range from brief to extensive. Preparation with an attorney can help the teacher anticipate the CTC’s topics of concern. The CTC uses special legal factors to assess whether discipline is appropriate and to what degree. Preparation can help the teacher provide accurate information and clear explanations. A prepared teacher will be less likely to be nervous, get flustered, or make a bad impression. An attorney can also make a statement that sets forth key facts and considerations to strengthen the teacher’s case.
Formal Review Hearing Result – The Notice of Committee Recommendation
In the wake of the formal review, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing sends a letter with the subject line “RE: Notice of Committee Recommendation”. This letter marks the end of the Committee of Credentials review of the matter. The letter, in its first paragraph, informs the teacher of the Committee’s recommendation to the CTC – whether to close the matter or to impose discipline. If discipline is recommended, the exact discipline is spelled out. The Commission, the governing body of CTC itself, holds the power to make the final determination, subject to important rights the teacher has to seek reconsideration and court review.
This notice advises a teacher of two very important rights that are waived if not preserved by teacher action within 30 days:
- The right to ask the CTC to reconsider adopting the recommended discipline of the teacher’s credential before the recommended discipline becomes final; and
- the right to have an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge.
Reconsideration is, simply put, an opportunity to present CTC with information or arguments that might change its mind. Logically, reconsideration should involve new and different information or arguments, instead of rehashing information and arguments already considered by the Committee. Therefore, it may not be worth the time, effort and legal fees to seek reconsideration if there is no new or different information to present to the CTC to change its mind. An attorney should make this analysis and advise the teacher whether to seek reconsideration.
An administrative hearing, on the other hand, is an opportunity to have the case reviewed by an impartial administrative law judge. If an administrative hearing is sought, CTC is represented by an attorney from the Office of the Attorney General. There are two potential ways to resolve the case. The first is to negotiate a settlement with CTC’s attorney, the deputy attorney general. The second is to have the case heard in front of a new fact finder, an impartial judge, to seek a better outcome. In almost all cases, a teacher who requests an administrative hearing remains credentialed and free of discipline until the administrative hearing process concludes, which can easily take from eight months to over one year. An administrative hearing provides for live testimony from both the CTC side and the defense side, allowing for a far more detailed exploration of the facts of the case. Unlike the formal review which provides for a limited questions posed to the teacher and a short statement from the teacher and attorney, at administrative hearing the teacher gets to explain all of the circumstances of the event or events that triggered the disciplinary case.
Ray & Bishop, PLC, has a deep fund of knowledge in successfully defending teachers from CTC discipline at each stage of the investigation and credential discipline process. If you receive notice from the CTC that there is an investigation of your California teaching credential underway, contact us for legal assistance.