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Court upholds 2-year suspension of teacher’s license

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An administrative law judge in the Indiana Department of Education correctly imposed a two-year suspension of a special education teacher’s license, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The court found no error in the ALJ’s reliance on a California case when considering whether to revoke or suspend a teaching license.

In 2010, Dr. Tony Bennett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, recommended that Patricia Terkosky’s license been revoked based on immorality and misconduct in office. The move stems from three reported incidents in Terkosky’s Worthington Elementary School classroom in 2008 and 2010. In 2008, Terkosky reportedly made a student stand between an easel and the chalkboard and struck the easel with a yardstick. In 2010, Terkosky reportedly grabbed a student by the arm and forced her to sit down, which led to redness and bruising on an arm. Terkosky also reportedly “popped” a student who suffered from Pica in the mouth for eating an eraser. Terkosky claimed she was trying to get the eraser out of the mouth so the student wouldn’t choke.

Instead of revoking her license for three years as Bennett sought, the ALJ imposed a two-year suspension. The ALJ noted that there is no Indiana caselaw defining “what constitutes immorality or misconduct for the purposes of license revocation,” so the judge turned to the California Supreme Court decision of Morrison v. State Bd. of Educ., 461 P.2d 375 (Cal. 1969), to come to the decision to suspend her license.

Terkosky argued that the trial court erred in concluding the ALJ possessed authority to impose a sanction different than what Bennett recommended and in finding that the ALJ’s order complied with I.C. 20-28-5-7.

“Section 7 provides that ‘[o]n the written recommendation of the state superintendent, the department may suspend or revoke a license . . . .’ Our interpretation of this clause is the same as that of the IDOE: Section 7 assigns to the Superintendent the role of initiating proceedings against a teaching license, and it assigns to the IDOE the role of determining the action to take against the license,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in Patricia Terkosky v. Indiana Department of Education, 49A02-1212-PL-1000.

“[Terkosky] maintains that ‘[i]nstead of conducting a factor analysis under Morrison, the ALJ should have examined Indiana law as it relates to the meaning of the terms “immorality” and “misconduct in office” in the license revocation context. We cannot say that the ALJ’s reference to Morrison was improper,” she continued. “… the only substantive difference between the Morrison factors and those listed in 515 Ind. Admin. Code § 9-1-18(h) is that, in place of the seventh factor in the Indiana Administrative Code, evidence of rehabilitation, the test in Morrison contains a factor to examine the praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of the motives resulting in the conduct.”

Terkosky’s acts, when viewed together, were found to have offended generally accepted standards of conduct of teachers and constituted misconduct in office, the judges held. The two-year suspension was not contrary to law.
 

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