Protecting bad apples in our schools is not good for students

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The Maine School Management Association favors a move to allow public access to disciplinary actions taken against teachers.

So does the Maine Department of Education.

So do we.

So do thousands of Maine parents.

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Maine teachers, represented by the Maine Education Association, do not.

It’s a curious contradiction for the MEA and its members to resist this move when their mission is “Leading the way to great public schools for every Maine student.”

It’s hard to get great public schools while shielding the bad apples among good teachers.

LD 1792 would adjust Maine law to make public the final written disciplinary actions taken against certified teachers, including the teacher’s name, grounds for discipline and a list of schools where that teacher is or has been employed, among other things.

Teachers don’t like it. They don’t want to be hindered by the light of scrutiny.

This level of scrutiny is already imposed on police officers, lawyers, doctors, dentists and most of Maine’s municipal, county and state employees. Teachers, to date, have passed along in secrecy.

That must change.

MEA has argued, among other things, that the proposal would unfairly target teachers and would wrongly expose private information about their behavior, including violence and alcohol or drug use.

Teachers would not be targeted; they would merely be brought into a fold of accountability that already exists for thousands of certified and licensed professionals.

The Maine Criminal Justice Academy issues certifications for all police officers in Maine; should an individual officer’s certification come under review in a disciplinary action, the Academy’s Board of Trustees conducts a public hearing into the matter and makes its decision in public. Every moment of the process is held in open session and becomes public record, no matter how serious or how minor the allegation may be, including poor performance based on drug or alcohol use.

The Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine is similarly open in its disciplinary proceedings. And, once discipline is imposed, the board goes further and issues a public statement with the name of the doctor disciplined, the grounds for the discipline and the punishment meted out, including rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse.

The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar publishes detailed disciplinary findings on its Web site.

For the rank-and-file public employee, disciplinary hearings are not public, but the final written determination is, no matter how trivial or serious the transgression.

For instance, years ago, a bus driver in SAD 39 refused to drop several students off on their street because of snow accumulation; he worried he wouldn’t be able to turn the bus around. So, he dropped the students off at the corner store and instructed them to walk home, a distance of less than a quarter-mile.

Each student got home safely, but the bus driver was fired for neglecting his duties.

The details of that situation, including the firing of the driver, were reported in open session at a Board of Directors meeting as part of the disciplinary process under Title 30-A of Maine law.

But if a teacher makes some transgression of equal weight, or much worse for that matter, the public is barred from finding out. That’s wrong.

It’s a simple matter of fairness, and an enormous matter of trust.

MEA calls the proposal unfair because, once a teacher’s poor performance is publicly known, it would be difficult if not impossible for that teacher to find another teaching job.

The same could be said of police officers, schoolbus drivers, town clerks, lawyers and thousands of others, but that’s what happens when you perform poorly. It becomes more difficult to find another job, which is a pretty keen incentive to perform as well as possible every day on the job.

Isn’t that what teachers want for students?

Isn’t that what parents want for children?

MEA advocates for professional excellence. There is no professional excellence without accountability. And there is no accountability if bad behavior is cloaked in shadow.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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