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School Mistakenly Relied on MDE’s Teacher Certification Website to Support Discharge
A Tenure Commission ALJ recently ordered Flint Community Schools to reinstate teacher Beth Casucci, finding that the District’s decision to terminate her employment violated the Teachers’ Tenure Act. Casucci v Flint Cmty Schs (PDO 13-54).
The school’s file indicated that Casucci’s teaching certificate would expire on June 30, 2013. In November 2012 and February 2013, the school sent Casucci warning letters that her teaching certificate would expire and failure to provide a current teaching certificate by the expiration date would result in discharge.
In March 2013, Casucci applied for a teaching certificate renewal and, in that application, disclosed that she had been convicted of two misdemeanors. Upon receipt of the renewal application, the Office of Professional Preparation Services (“OPPS”) notified Casucci that it was investigating the criminal conviction and the possible impact on her certification renewal. She admitted to OPPS that she had not informed the school in writing of the arrest and conviction but that she verbally told her principal and the school’s office of risk benefits. Casucci also told OPPS that her paperwork for the teaching certificate renewal had to be filed with the school by June 30 or she would be terminated. Casucci alleged that OPPS assured her that her teaching certificate would not expire.
In May 2013, the school notified Casucci that her contract would not be renewed for the 2013-2014 school year due to budgetary reasons. In June 2013, OPPS notified Casucci that her teaching certificate would be renewed if she agreed to OPPS’s conditional agreement and returned the agreement to OPPS no later than July 12, 2013. Casucci never provided this letter to the school’s human resources office. On July 9, 2013, Casucci signed the conditional agreement and returned it to OPPS. In a letter dated July 17, 2013, OPPS stated that her application for renewal had cleared and, upon receipt of the renewal fees, she would receive a renewed teaching certificate. She did not provide a copy of this letter to the school.
On July 1, 2013 and July 10, 2013, the school’s human resources officer checked MDE’s teacher certification verification website and confirmed that Casucci had not renewed her teaching certificate. On July 17, 2013, the board terminated Casucci’s employment because her teaching certificate had expired. On July 18, 2013, MDE issued Casucci a renewed teaching certificate, which she forwarded to the school and the school received on September 26, 2013.
Casucci filed a Claim of Appeal with the State Tenure Commission challenging her discharge.
The ALJ held that Casucci should be reinstated, finding that OPPS’s investigation into the criminal conviction delayed the renewal of her certificate. Further, Section 91 of the Administrative Procedures Act provides that where a teacher has timely applied for renewal of a teaching certificate but the renewal is delayed pending an investigation, the existing license does not expire until the agency makes a decision on the application. Here, Casucci applied for renewal three months before her certificate’s expiration, but the investigation into the criminal conviction delayed completion of the renewal process. Therefore, under state law, Casucci’s teaching certificate remained valid when the board acted to discharge her. The ALJ found that because Casucci was a certified and tenured teacher at that time, the board’s termination of her employment without a hearing violated the Tenure Act.
This case illustrates the importance of communicating with a teacher before the teacher’s certificate expires and before the board acts to terminate employment. School officials should not rely solely on the MDE’s teacher certification verification website for certification information. School officials must instead communicate with teachers before taking employment action based on failure to renew a teaching certificate.