By: Jen Pace & Lindsey Bailey
“While helping a high school, female student with a math problem, she looked me in the eye pulled the collar of her shirt down and asked, ‘what are you looking at?’ I was taken aback and angered by the false accusation. I was a young, male teacher, and although there was no wrong doing on my part, I realized how quickly my career and reputation could be taken away. Thankfully, nothing came from this situation. But, nonetheless, I was horrified and angry at the thought of how easily doing my job as a teacher could have been skewed.” –Former Florida Educator
We have seen stories on the news and heard the unthinkable from coworkers. It is every teacher’s worst nightmare. The accusations can range from unfair treatment, changing a student’s grade to something much scarier like sexual allegations. You may even be able to remember a time that this has happened in your own school or county. What do you do when an accusation is made toward you as an educator? Although it can be a very scary situation, there is a proper way to respond, so that the truth and your career is preserved.
There are four things to consider when you have been falsely accused.
- Stay Calm. Any time, a person’s reputation and name is at stake, it can be emotionally charging. You cannot always control what happens, but you can control your response. Stop. Take a breath. Calm down and be sure to respond instead of react. Believe it or not, accusations happen all of the time to every type of teacher. As an educator, you are in the public eye, and you are working closely with others. This opens you up to criticism and possible accusations. It doesn’t make it right, but understand that this can happen to anyone.
- Keep Documentation. If the accusation that has been made is in reference to a specific situation, you should go ahead and write down your account of what happened while the situation is still fresh on your mind. Include a listing of those who were witness to the events in question. Be transparent and detailed with logistics. An email to yourself is a good way to document issues as it automatically provides a valid time and date stamp of your account.
- Reach Out. Be sure to reach out to administration as soon as possible to communicate. It is better for administration to hear of the incident from you than from someone else. If a parent is acting abusive or overbearing, then having your administration as a back-up is a positive and is not a sign of weakness. If a formal complaint has not been made, reach out to the person in question and try to talk through the situation to make peace (with administration present if necessary).
- Contact PEN right away. In the case that a formal accusation is made and the district decides to investigate; be sure to contact PEN right away. If a District Investigation is initiated, you will have a PEN lawyer assigned to you who will walk you through this process and be there to support and defend each step of the way. Comply with the District’s questions and requests. Compliance shows that you have nothing to hide. Answer any questions that are asked of you, because this gives you the chance to share your side of the story. Sometimes the investigation will be done by a police officer. Other times an investigation will be done by a district representative. Both are normal. A key point to remember is that an investigation is not equivalent to being disciplined. An investigation ends in Progressive Discipline IF wrongdoing is proved. Furthermore, your contract outlines the steps of Progressive Discipline that the district must follow. Be sure to keep any documentation the district gives you.
In the end, most of the time an accusation or a defamatory comment does not end in an investigation. Still, this can be a very painful thing to endure. If you have specific questions related to District Investigations or dealing with accusations on the job please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.