Guilty or Innocent? Dealing with Teacher Misconduct Issues

Author:Mr David Fagan
Profession:Eversheds O'Donnell Sweeney

All teachers, and indeed principals, deputy principals and school boards want to deliver a professional service to all of their students.

However, occasionally it will become necessary for a School Board to investigate allegations of misconduct against a teacher. In such circumstances, as the Board is an employer, there are general rules for the conduct of disciplinary procedures.

Disciplinary procedures set out the precise format that will be followed in any disciplinary investigation, or in any disciplinary hearing. Procedures agreed by boards of management under Towards 2016, apply to all teachers other than those on probation.

The Procedures are as simple and as flexible as possible in order to cater for a wide variety of circumstances. A school will be expected to closely follow the Procedures; and will most likely be penalised for operating outside of the Procedures, in the event that a disciplinary matter ends up in a court or employment body to decide the fairness of a dismissal.

This article gives a summary of the legal principles underlying the Procedures.

Natural Justice; we've all heard the phrase, but what is it?

The Procedures implement "natural justice" which is mainly derived from two principles of Roman law.

"Audi Alteram Partem" – or "Hear All Sides". This is the right to present the best defence possible.

"Nemo Judex in Sua Causa" – or "No One May Judge in his Own Cause", often referred to as the rule against bias.

Allowing the teacher to defend themselves

To properly present a defence, the teacher will need a right of 'representation', details of the allegation against him or her, copies of all documents relied on by the School Board, the ability to present witnesses, the ability to challenge and cross-examine persons giving evidence against him or her and an opportunity to make a full reply to the allegation.

I am not biased, am I?

The rule against bias means that no person who has a direct involvement in the allegations should be a decision-maker in the process. Even the appearance of bias can taint a process. Any decision-maker should be at least at the same level as, and preferably at a level above the teacher and any complainant. This is to prevent a subordinate giving a decision which is favourable to the person making the allegations, out of deference. In the Procedures, the decision maker can be the Principal, or the Principal and Board Nominee or the Board itself (depending on the stage).

It isn't necessary that...

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