3020a Hearings in New York
Section 3020a of the New York State Education Law Code details the process a school district must adhere to in order to fire a tenured teacher. In the state of New York, a tenured teacher or administrator has a right to his or her position and the position cannot be taken away without due process of the law.
A 3020a hearing is not a “legal proceeding”. Safeguards that shield parties in criminal and civil law courts, like discovery requirements and evidentiary rules, may not be observed. That’s why it is important to retain a skilled and experienced employment law attorney to fight for your job and your rights.
The Law Offices of Vincent P. White take only employment law cases and have extensive experience fighting for tenured teachers facing a 3020a hearing. We can help you maximize the protections afforded under state law. Contact our law firm to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.
What the School District Must Prove
A school district, under section 3020a, must have “just cause” to fire a tenured teacher. They carry the burden of proof to justify the firing by a preponderance of evidence.
The school district must show:
- You were made aware that your performance was defective and gave you adequate chance to improve (such as providing training or assistance)
- You did not make the desired change in your performance
- You were insubordinate in your failure to do so
There are 12 concrete grounds that constitute “defective” performance set forth by the law:
- Immoral character
- Conduct unbecoming a teacher
- Neglect of duty
- Failure to maintain certifications
- Physical or mental disability
- Corporal punishment
- Excessive absenteeism
- Verbal abuse
- Sexual contact/relationship
- Pedagogical incompetence
Pedagogical incompetence can include failing to prepare lesson plans as required, neglecting duties and being unable to control a class. Of the 580 decisions made in 3020a cases between 1995 and 2005, this was the most common charge.
New York City Teachers and 3020a Hearings
When a district initiates a 3020a proceeding against a teacher, you can expect to be suspended from your job throughout the investigation. But you do have important rights at this stage: the charge must be in writing and the proceeding must begin within three years of the alleged misconduct. If a criminal felony is involved, suspension may be unpaid and the statute of limitations may not apply.
The hearing is presided over by an independent arbitrator registered with the American Arbitration Association. This arbitrator decides if you should receive a penalty and what that penalty should be. He or she can also attempt a compromise in the decision in order to placate both sides.
What Matters at the Hearing
There isn’t a specific test in the statue or regulations used to determine whether a tenured teacher can be fired. The arbitrator will use some of the following questions to determine 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?
In order to maximize due process rights, we encourage you to retain private counsel. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Vincent P. White have the knowledge and experience to represent your rights in a 3020a hearing.
After the Hearing
If acquitted, you are entitled to certain state and federal rights:
- You are entitled to be restored fully to your previous position
- You may 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
If found guilty, any of these consequences may 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, you may visit the Commissioner of Education Regulations website
Call the Law Offices of Vincent P. White
To learn more about how we can help you in a 3020a hearing, call our offices to schedule an appointment.