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Utah's largest teachers union is suing the state school board over new license review rules it says deprive educators of constitutional rights.
When a teacher is under review for inappropriate or unprofessional conduct, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in 3rd District Court, the new rules allow for a hearing to take place without notifying the teacher of the charges against them or allowing teachers to cross-examine their accusers.
And the changes were made in violation of state law that calls for public hearings on new rules, according to the Utah Education Association (UEA).
"We only filed the complaint after we had made multiple attempts to work collaboratively with the Board of Education to implement rules that comply with state law," said Mike Kelly, spokesman for the UEA.
In April, according to the lawsuit, the state school board began rewriting regulations for the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission, or UPPAC, which investigates educator misconduct and submits disciplinary recommendations to the Board of Education.
The rewrite followed the Utah Legislature's passage of HB345, which broadened the board's rule-making authority for UPPAC procedures.
But among the changes were procedures that allow board members to consider additional evidence without notice to an accused teacher, and to hear testimony from accusers without the teacher present, when debating disciplinary actions, the lawsuit states.
During the drafting of the new rules, the UEA requested a public hearing to provide feedback on the changes, as allowed by state law.
A hearing was called for a subcommittee of the Board of Education rather than a quorum of the board itself, according to the lawsuit.
"This is not what UEA wanted to do," said Kass Harstad, the lead attorney representing the teachers union. "This was a last resort."
Harstad said the new policies violate Utah and United States constitutional law by blocking the due process rights of accused educators.
And the board's rules are poorly defined, she said, leaving ambiguity for how charges like child abuse will be applied to accused teachers.
"This is so broad," Harstad said. "We don't know how it's going to be used."
Emilie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the state school board, confirmed Tuesday that the board had received the lawsuit.
"Our attorneys will review the documents and plan to respond within the time allowed by the court," she said. "Beyond that, we don't have any comment about the substance of the complaint."