The New Mute Button

Is The Idaho Professional Standards Commission Up to the Challenge?

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerIdaho educational news made national headlines this year; as usual, it wasn’t because Idaho was touting how it’s educational policies have led it to be a top state in the nation in educating our students. Nope, instead Idaho was blasted over a case involving an ethics probe of an Idaho education teacher.

In March, the Standards Commission investigated an ethics probe violation against a Dietrick Biology teacher, Tim McDaniel. The probe was carried out at the behest of a group of parent complainants angered over McDaniel’s use of sexual reproductive organ vocabulary during a–you guessed it–biology lesson on sexual reproduction.

Let’s clarify a few things at this point. According to the commission’s guidelines, the complainants need not follow a formalized due process grievance procedure before launching the complaint at the state level.

Instead, the guidelines state that the complainant should exhaust all other resources before issuing a complaint.  Of course, these due process procedures can be different in every district.  Regardless, any person is free to launch an ethics complaint directly to the commission at any time by simply filling out the paperwork. Nifty, huh? Indeed, in this case the complaints jumped the gun and filed to the commission before the local board had an opportunity to rule on the issue.

In any case, an official inquiry was launched at McDaniel. You can imagine the amount of stress and hardship McDaniel came under during the period the commission took to investigate, not to mention the anguish science teachers around the state must have been under as they prepared their own lesson plans on reproduction around the state for fear of retribution of teaching content related vocabulary.

In the meantime, Idaho experienced the joy of yet again becoming this great nation’s crazy cousin-state that a 24 hour cable-news cycle just couldn’t resist hitting again…again…and again. I’m sure parents across the country surely wanted to move to idaho to experience our newly touted “mute” button on academic vocabulary.

In the end the commission did the right thing; McDaniel was cleared of the complaint and continues doing what he gets paid the big bucks for. However, the damage was already done. In addition to the nation getting yet another great image of Idaho’s fantastic progressive policies, teachers around the state were left tainted with the belief that any person, at any time, could launch a probe into their classroom without any due process that could instantly launch their career, dignity, and privacy into a the blood-thirsty machine of cable news.  And they believe this because it’s true.

For those who think I might be exaggerating this impact, let us but simply turn to McDaniel to explain how, even after being cleared of any and all wrongdoing, he won’t teach the human reproductive system in biology again.  One is left wondering what other units McDaniel, and teachers across the state are considering axing in hopes of avoiding their portrait ending up on national news.

No. This is not best practice. We can do better to fairly adjudicate legitimate citizen complaints transparently and accurately. Let’s start by requiring a specific internal grievance procedure to be handled at the building, and if needed the board level before we throw gasoline on the flames and hand it off to the state.

Let’s protect teachers right to dignity, privacy, and respect by keeping such a grievance procedure private until it is resolved. At that point, if a teacher like McDaniel is cleared, we avoid the hysteria of the mob media’s courtroom and help teachers feel secure to teach their curriculum with fidelity. If a teacher isn’t cleared, there will always be time for the media to pounce later on.

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