Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna warned educators last month they could be fired for politicking at school, but says he can't disclose whether any are under investigation.
Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, cited advice from legal counsel as the reason for non-disclosure.
Last week, McGrath wrote that "at least 10 informal complaints" had been filed with the 18-member Idaho Professional Standards Commission, the panel that reviews violations of the ethics code for Idaho educators and can strip them of the certification required to teach in public schools.
In a May 13 memo sent to all of Idaho's K-12 school trustees and administrators, Luna said he had received "numerous reports" of ethical violations. He cited this provision from the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators: “Using institutional privileges for the promotion of political candidates or for political activities, except for local, state or national education association elections.”
Last week, in compliance with a public records request, Luna
released documentation of 25 complaints made to his office on or before May 13, many of which regarded Boise and Meridian schools.
Idaho law provides that the commission "may conduct investigations on any signed allegation of unethical practice of any teacher" brought by "an individual with a substantial interest in the matter," excepting a student in a public school. "The allegation shall state the specific ground or grounds for revocation, suspension or issuance of a letter of reprimand."
The commission's "chief certification officer/Commission administrator may also initiate an allegation if public records indicate a person holding an Idaho credential may have been involved in ethical misconduct," according to the commission's Procedures Manual.
The Statesman filed a public records request seeking the number of signed allegations received by the commission and the number of educators, if any, under investigation for political activity. McGrath replied in a letter Tuesday, writing that "legal counsel reviewed your request and has advised that the Professional Standards Commission cannot comment on pending or ongoing investigations until final action is taken."
Boise and Meridian schools superintendents said last week they were unaware of any of their staff being under investigation. But Meridian Superintendent Linda Clark said an internal investigation by the district prompted the discipline of one staffer for improper advocacy in the district's May 17 levy election campaign. Clark said three others were under investigation for improper email use.
Commission procedures contemplate two steps after initial review of allegations by the commission administrator in conjunction with a deputy attorney general and a commission investigator.
If they decide not to conduct an investigation, the matter is remanded to the school district "to be resolved locally."
If they decide to open an investigation, the complainant and respondent "will be notified in writing in a timely manner that an investigation will be conducted."
On Tuesday, the Statesman reported that Boise Democratic Rep. Sue Chew solicited help from teachers in engaging students in overturning the "Students Come First" reform laws authored by Luna in a referendum election next year. House Minority Leader John Rusche told Chew her action was inappropriate. Chew's email went to almost 800 addressees, but she said no one responded to her request.
In the commission's last annual report, for the one-year period ending June 30, 2010, the panel reported considering 34 cases.
Of those, 12 educators had their certificates revoked or surrendered them voluntarily. Of that dozen, seven had been convicted of crimes. Another five had their certificates suspended.
The Professional Standards Commission is made up of: seven certificated public school classroom teachers; two representatives of community colleges and education departments of Idaho's four public higher education institutions; one representative of the letters and sciences department of the four higher ed institutions; one representative from the education department of one of Idaho's private colleges; one member of Luna's staff; one staffer from the Division of Professional-Technical Education; one representative each from the Idaho School Superintendents Association, Idaho Association of Secondary School Principals, Idaho Association of Elementary School Principals, Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of Special Education Administrators.
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