Most credentialed professions have their own industry-specific code of ethics that their members adhere to. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants all follow their own individual system of ethics meant to protect the demographics that they work with. There is no profession, outside of the medical profession perhaps, with a more strict set of professional standards than the field of education. Teachers and paraprofessionals work with children. They are held to a higher standard than most people. So, Do NJ Teachers Have to Self-report Arrests to their School District if they are charged with a crime?
Due to their perceived vulnerabilities, children are considered a protected class of people. Educators in the state of New Jersey must show a high degree of moral character in both their public life and their professional conduct.
To become a certified teacher in New Jersey requires years of schooling, a high level of expertise in their subject matter. It also requires numerous post-graduation credentialing tests. Becoming a teacher takes time and money, coupled with the ethical requirements to maintain your license in good standing. That is why an arrest or criminal history can be such an earth-shattering event for a licensed educator.
What kind of behavior disqualifies you from working at a school district?
Part of the teacher licensing requirements for the state of New Jersey involve a background check. Because school district employees work with children, this background check entails a thorough inquiry into the potential employee’s past. Each applicant is fingerprinted and their prints are run through all applicable law enforcement databases. This includes the FBI database. If the background check returns a past criminal history, it may preclude the applicant from obtaining a teaching license. It also effects who can work on school grounds.
Not every type of crime instantly disqualifies you. There are, however, many different categories that will immediately nullify your candidacy. If you currently have any charges pending against you at the time of your application, you cannot be employed by the New Jersey school system. Those charges must be addressed in court and resolved. This is the case regardless of the type of charge.
More serious charges in your personal history can effectively end your candidacy and prevent you from ever working for the school district. New Jersey uses a slightly different terminology to refer to the degree of criminality than other states. New Jersey uses the term “indictable offense” which is the equivalent of a felony in most other states.
Categories of Disqualifying Offenses
1st and 2nd degree offenses automatically disqualify an applicant from working in a New Jersey school district. This is regardless of whether or not the applicant paid their debt to society. 1st degree indictable offenses include:
- Large-scale drug trafficking
- Sexual assault
1st degree indictable offenses are predictably the most serious offenses under New Jersey state law. 2nd degree indictable offenses are those crimes that fall just below 1st degree charges in their scope of severity. Those crimes include:
- Armed robbery
- Financial (white collar) crimes
- Minor sex crimes
While 2nd degree offenses might be slightly less severe in terms of judicial ramifications, they still instantly disqualify an applicant from ever working under the purview of the New Jersey educational system.
It should be noted that being convicted of any crime which endangers the welfare of a child will also preclude you from working for a school district.
Past crimes versus current arrests
It is clear that past crimes, especially those of a serious level, have a major effect on your chances at becoming a teacher or school paraprofessional. What if you are already a teacher or teacher’s aide though? What effect does an arrest have on your job?
It is essential to recognize the difference between “charged with” and “indicted.” Being charged with a crime, no matter how severe, does not necessarily mean that you will lose your job. Nor does it make you ineligible to work with children going forward. A charge is not a verdict.
It’s another story if you are convicted of a crime. The question of whether or not you will lose your job becomes moot. Your sentencing may involve jail time. However, if you are only arrested and charged with a crime, you have a right to defend yourself in a court of law against all accusations.
In short, you cannot lose your job just because you were arrested. That brings us to the question of arrest itself. Given the strict moral and ethical standards that educators are subject to, how does a simple arrest affect a teacher’s job status?
When should you self-report an arrest?
Let’s say that you’ve been pulled over and charged with a DUI. This is your first offense. You were mildly impaired while driving home from dinner when the officer arrested you. This scenario clearly doesn’t fit under the more major offenses discussed earlier. In fact, a relatively minor crime such as driving while intoxicated will not cause you to lose your job. You may, however, be required to report the incident to your school district in a timely manner or face professional sanctions. Those sanctions can include being fired.
According to New Jersey educational law, you must report your arrest to the district superintendent no later than fourteen days after the incident. Additionally, you must report the outcome of the case no later than seven days after it is rendered. Most school districts require documentation proving that the matter is closed.
This is a general guideline, nothing more. Each school district has a right to review issues on a case-by-case basis. However, in the spirit of professional ethics and moral standards, it is in the accused’s best interest to self-report any arrest to their superiors in an open and timely manner.
What should you do if you’re arrested?
If you do find yourself in a precarious situation, the best advice is always “Stay calm.” As long as you are compliant with the arresting officer and your school district, you will mitigate the damage done to your career. For help navigating through the process, it can pay to enlist the help of professional counsel to help broker the best possible outcome for your life and career.