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3020a Hearings in New York

Are you a tenured New York City teacher facing a 3020a hearing? New York State law provides that a tenured teacher or administrator (except a superintendent) has a right to his or her position. This means that he or she cannot have that position taken away without due process of law.

Section 3020a of the New York State Education Law Code lays out the process a school district must go through in order to fire a tenured teacher. This is the process set up by the state to ensure your due process rights when your livelihood is on the line.

A 3020a hearing is not a “legal proceeding.” This means that safeguards like discovery requirements and evidentiary rules, which shield parties in criminal and civil law courts, might not be observed unless you retain a skilled, dedicated attorney to fight for your job, your livelihood and your rights.

At Ricotta & Marks, P.C., we can help you maximize the protections afforded to you under state law. Contact our Queens law firm at 347-464-8694 or 800-240-9269 to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.

What the District Must Prove

If the school district wants to fire you, Section 3020a places the burden of proof squarely on the district to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they have “just cause” to do so.

The school district will have to show that:

  • They told you that your performance was defective, and gave you an adequate chance to improve (such as by providing assistance or training)
  • You did not make the desired changes in your service
  • You were insubordinate in your failure to do so

What type of “defective” performance can the district terminate you for? The law sets forth 12 concrete grounds:

  • Immoral character
  • Conduct unbecoming a teacher
  • Insubordination
  • Neglect of duty
  • Inefficiency
  • Failure to maintain certification
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Corporal punishment
  • Excessive absenteeism
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual contact/relationship
  • Pedagogical incompetence

Of the 580 decisions made in 3020a cases between 1995 and 2005, “pedagogical incompetence” was the most common charge leveled against the teacher. This charge is understood to include failing to prepare lesson plans as required, neglecting duty and being unable to control a class.

New York City Teachers And 3020a Hearings

Once the district has initiated 3020a proceedings against you, you can expect to be suspended from your job, with pay, throughout the course of the investigation. Even at this early stage, you have important rights: the charge must be put in writing, and the proceedings must begin at the most three years after the alleged misconduct. However, if the misconduct alleged involves a criminal felony, your suspension may be unpaid, and the statute of limitations does not apply.

When the hearing takes place, an independent arbitrator, registered with the American Arbitration Association, will preside. This arbitrator must decide whether to assess a penalty to you, and, if so, what that penalty should be. He or she may try to strike a compromise in the decision in order to make both sides happy.

What Matters at the Hearing

There is no specific test in the statute or regulations which the arbitrator will use to make his or her decision, but the following questions will probably be important factors in the outcome:

  • Did the Department of Education show by a preponderance of the evidence that there was “just cause?”
  • How credible were the witnesses on each side, including the defendant?
  • How well did the evidence support the charges?
  • If the alleged action is found to have taken place, were there extenuating circumstances? Did the defendant seem remorseful?
  • What was the defendant’s disciplinary record like before this 3020a was instituted?
  • What was the quality of the representation on each side?

We encourage you to retain private counsel in order to maximize your due process rights. Our lawyers focus exclusively on employment law issues and have the skills and knowledge to represent your rights in a 3020a hearing.

After the Hearing

If you are acquitted, both federal and state law entitle you to certain rights:

  • You are entitled to be restored fully to your previous position
  • You have the right to collect back pay if applicable
  • You are entitled to have your record expunged of the charges
  • In the event that the charges leveled against you are found to be frivolous, the arbitrator might order that the district reimburse you for the costs of your legal defense
  • You might have a claim against the district under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act if these charges were an attempt to deny you employment or promotion because of your age, gender, race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs

However, if you are found guilty, any one of a number of consequences could occur:

  • You could be fired
  • You could be made to pay a fine
  • You could be suspended without pay
  • You could be reprimanded
  • The hearing panel might require you to undergo counseling
  • You might have to be treated medically
  • The panel might mandate that you take courses in continuing education

For more information on 3020a hearings, visit the Commissioner of Education Regulations online.

What Happens when a Teacher is Notified of Charges Against Him or Her?

Section 3020-a of the New York Education Law outlines the process that districts must take to discipline tenured teachers who are accused of misconduct or incompetence. This process includes a formal hearing known as a 3020 hearing.

After formally charging a teacher with misconduct or incompetence, the district’s employment board clerk must notify the other members of the board of the charge. If the board votes that there is probable cause to seek disciplinary action against the teacher, it moves forward with the process by sending the teacher a written statement outlining the nature of the charge, the maximum penalty for the charge, and a detailed explanation of his or her rights. The teacher then has 10 days to determine whether he or she wants to schedule a 3020 hearing and must notify the board of this choice. Otherwise, he or she waives the right to a hearing.

What Should a Teacher Consider Before Attending a 3020 Hearing?

If the teacher is charged with misconduct, he or she can choose whether the hearing will be heard by an individual officer or a panel of three individuals. If he or she is charged with incompetence, the hearing may only be heard by one party.

Upon receiving notice of disciplinary action, a teacher should start working with an experienced employment lawyer to determine the right course of action. It is important to remember that a 3020 hearing is not a legal proceeding, but a process used to determine whether a teacher is fit to remain in the classroom or even in the district in any capacity. Penalties can include moving a teacher to a new role within a district, suspending him or her with pay, or terminating his or her employment. Working with a lawyer can help a teacher determine his or her rights.

Is There a Fee Associated with the Hearing?

Yes. The fee is $150 and it must be paid by the district. This is because the panel of officers who are qualified to conduct these hearings is maintained by the American Arbitration Association (AAA), which is a non-profit organization. If a district and a teacher cannot agree on which officers should conduct a hearing, the AAA can make this determination for an additional $50 fee.

It is worth your time to request a 3020 hearing. There are many reasons why a district might take action against a teacher, such as excessive absenteeism, insubordination, immoral character, conduct deemed to be unbecoming of a teacher, a physical or mental disability, or pedagogical incompetence as well as more clear-cut wrongdoings such as verbal abuse of students or an inappropriate relationship with a student. Requesting and attending a 3020 hearing can be a way for a teacher to protect him- or herself from discrimination.

Work with an Experienced Queens Employment Lawyer

If you are a teacher facing disciplinary charges, work with an experienced employment lawyer to defend your case. Contact our team at Ricotta & Marks, P.C. today.

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