Legal Considerations for Teachers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Every profession in the country has experienced disruption to its practices, policies and procedures during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers are among those most affected. Their work is critical not only to the education of young people, but also to the larger economy—without schools that function, parents will struggle to work. But asking teachers to deliver the same quality of education in the shadow of a disease we have only been studying for about seven months is a tall order. With a full return to school in England on the horizon in just a few weeks, it’s possible that some teachers will find themselves on the wrong side of a teacher misconduct investigation.

Even though children seem to avoid severe disease related to COVID-19, it’s still not clear how much of a role they play in spreading the virus. Children over the age of 10, for example, may spread the virus just as much as adults do. Teachers are now asked to be public health officials as well as educators. The result is enormous personal and professional strain.

Here’s a look at some of the legal issues around disciplinary action for teachers.

New Teachers

New entrants to the teaching profession will be starting this September in extraordinary circumstances. It’s difficult to see how new teachers will receive anything like the kind of thorough supervision and support they would have had previously. This could leave them open to accusations of teacher misconduct due to a lack of clear guidance from superiors.

How Schools Are Handling COVID-19 Risks

The government has issued safety guidelines for school opening. Every school is taking a different approach to those guidelines. Some teachers report that they aren’t happy with the level of health risk at their schools. Others feel they won’t be able to adequately do their jobs.

Inevitably, some teachers will buckle under this strain. Others may face allegations from stressed students and parents.

As a result, we can expect more investigations of teachers in the year to come.

More Teacher Misconduct Investigations—Under More Difficult Circumstances

Disciplinary investigations for teachers, carried out by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), usually involve public hearings. It’s not clear if that will be the case this year, or if hearings will be held virtually instead.

I’ve discussed concerns about the fairness of virtual hearings before, within the context of criminal offences. Those concerns also apply to any virtual hearings related to teacher discipline.

Legal Representation for Teachers During Misconduct Investigations

In the event of an investigation or hearing, you are entitled to legal representation. While you may have an insurance policy or union policy which states you must use one of their approved solicitors, this is not true. You can choose your own representative, and it’s absolutely vital to have one—especially if there are any criminal allegations linked to your case.

Usually, your union or insurer will fund your investigation costs. If not, fixed-fee options are available.

Disciplinary Hearings

In general, teachers are entitled to have a solicitor present during disciplinary hearings. If not, it’s still worth engaging a solicitor to help you prepare.

As experts on professional regulatory law, we can draft statements, gather evidence, and prepare arguments for you. We can also offer advice on likely outcomes. Don’t hesitate to get in touch for a free, no-strings consultation about your case.

Regan Peggs
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