Due process — innocent until proven guilty — is an American principle. But for many years, certain entities in Oklahoma have used a loophole in the law to deprive teachers of this right —let me explain.
In rare occasions, teachers are accused of a crime and criminal charges are filed. The justice system then follows relevant procedure and sets a court date, if necessary, to ensure the party in questions receives a fair dealing. Unless a confession is given or a plea bargain reached, no determination of guilt is declared before the trial; that is, no determination of guilt — no conviction — is declared prior to receiving due process.
It is at this point, prior to trial and any determination of guilt, that many teachers are terminated via a legal technicality without contractual or constitutional due process.
In light of the filed charges, the State Board of Education retains the right to suspend the teaching certificate of the accused individual on an emergency basis. This emergency suspension occurs without a hearing. The local school district also retains the right to place the teacher in question on administrative leave. But many districts go further. Once the teacher’s certificate is suspended, many districts terminate the teacher on the basis that an Oklahoma school district cannot employee a teacher who lacks a valid teaching certificate. The termination occurs without the required local school board hearing guaranteed by the teacher’s contract and without the constitutional due process protection granted to state and federal employees.
A teacher who is accused of a crime — but not proven guilty in any court — quickly goes from ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to simply ‘guilty.’ There is no due process prior to the termination — no criminal trial, no State Department of Education hearing, no local school board hearing. The teacher who has been accused is treated as guilty without due process and terminated on those assumed and unsubstantiated grounds.
Senate Bill 13, authored by Sen. Brenda Stanley, addresses this issue. Stanley’s bill guarantees that all teachers accused of a crime receive due process.
“This bill is not about protecting guilty teachers,” said Stanley. “This bill is about ensuring that no teacher is assumed guilty and terminated on those grounds without due process. At the end of the day, this bill is about upholding the principle of innocent until proven guilty.”
SB 13 unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee with a vote 14-0. On Monday, March 1, SB 13 passed the Senate general assembly with a unanimous vote of 46-0.
In addition to the protections offered by Senate Bill 13, it is noteworthy to mention that this same legal loophole of depriving a teacher of due process has been identified and is currently being challenged in the courts.