Legislators: Protect Our Students And Teachers

Friday, February 23, 2018

When students step into their classrooms, they are there to learn and prepare for their future. Our teachers serve to advance each student’s education and guide them towards success. 

Educators have an additional responsibility: maintaining the trust and respect of their students by conducting themselves professionally and responsibly. The vast majority of our teachers are upstanding professionals, but when a teacher violates this trust, their ability to teach in Tennessee may be suspended or revoked. 

Though a small agency in the state government, the State Board of Education develops the rules and policies for K-12 education in Tennessee, and serves a crucial role in the thorough examination of licensure discipline cases. 

By holding our state’s educators to the highest standards, we can ensure the safety of our children and preserve the professional integrity of the teaching profession. 

For the last 22 years, I have served on Tennessee’s State Board of Education and for 12 of those years, I was the Board’s chairman. 

During this time, I have seen hundreds of educator licensure discipline cases, and most were not severe. However, we have seen teachers abuse their roles, exhibiting inappropriate and sometimes criminal behavior towards students. 

The State Board has the authority— and the responsibility—of governing the qualifications, requirements and standards of licenses for all public school educators and administrators.

But in 2015, the State Board’s ability to perform licensure actions was challenged when the Davidson County Chancery Court issued a ruling that overturned the Board’s denial of license reinstatement for a teacher who had been found guilty of statutory rape of one of his students.

The court believed the Board’s rule was not clear enough, and this created a dangerous precedent and loophole which threatened the safety and wellbeing of our students as well as the integrity of the teaching profession in Tennessee. We set out to immediately address this loophole by issuing an emergency rule to repeal and replace the old rule with one that clearly defines the discipline schedule for the formal reprimand, suspension, and revocation or educator licenses. 

This way, both the State Board and those holding educator licenses will have a clear understanding and expectation of the discipline imposed for education indiscretions. The new emergency rule adds clarity to the expectations of educators in Tennessee while protecting our students and the integrity of the teaching profession, but it is not permanent and is set to expire on March 4. 

State legislators have an opportunity to approve a permanent version of the rule, set to take effect on March 5, helping to protect the teaching profession’s reputation and the safety of all
students. 

Our children come to classrooms to learn, not to be preyed on or mistreated by their authority figures. When we hold our excellent educators to the highest professional standards, our
students can focus on what should be their priority: learning. 

As I retire from the State Board later this year, I am certain the permanent educator licensure discipline rule will better protect our students and everyone in the teaching profession.

I hope that all of the members of the Tennessee General Assembly will join our legislature’s education leaders in passing the law to make the new rule permanent—to ensure the safety of our children and protect the profession of education in Tennessee

Fielding Rolston
Chairman of the State Board of Education


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