Over the past few years, school districts in Alaska and around the nation have faced heated disputes regarding activist educators who use their influence and position to push controversial political or social ideology on impressionable students.
Some school boards, such as the Mat-Su, have gone so far as to implement new policies that explicitly prohibit educators from using school time or resources to promote activists causes that have nothing to do with educational curriculum.
Policies aside, however, some educators still utilize their access to students to advocate for social issues that numerous parents find objectionable.
Many Alaska residents may be unaware that state law provides a means by which parents and community members can address problematic educators suspected of unethical, immoral or illegal conduct.
Established in 1966, Alaska’s Professional Teaching Practices Commission (PTPC) is tasked with defining and enforcing ethical standards among Alaska’s educators. When educators violate the commission’s Code of Ethics, it is empowered to impose sanctions – from basic warnings to revoking teaching certificates.
Anyone can file a complaint against an educator if they suspect a crime or unethical action has been committed, which would be grounds for discipline.
Unless there is a clear violation of the law, the commission does not investigate school district personnel or curriculum actions. Likewise, all investigations must deal with an individual educator, not a board, department, district or organizational institution. Commission staff may also decline to accept a complaint until locally available remedies have been pursued, such as first contacting the school and local administration.
When it comes to teacher conduct, expectations are spelled out in the PTPC’s Code of Ethics. According to this document educators may not engage in the following activities, among others.
— “deliberately distort, suppress, or deny access to curricular materials or educational information in order to promote the personal view, interest, or goal of the educator.”
— “expose a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement”
— “harass, discriminate against, or grant a discriminatory advantage to a student on the grounds of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, physical or mental conditions, family, social, or cultural background, gender identification, or sexual orientation”
— “use institutional privileges for private gain, to promote political candidates, or for partisan political activities”
— “use or allow the use of district resources for private purposes not related to the district programs and operation.”
Additionally, educators are required to do carry out the following actions.
— “make reasonable effort to assure that a student is protected from harassment or discrimination on these grounds; and may not engage in a course of conduct that would encourage a reasonable student to develop a prejudice on these grounds”
— “take reasonable precautions to distinguish between the educator’s personal views and those of any educational institution or organization with which the educator is affiliated”
— “make reasonable effort to protect students from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety”
— “accord just and equitable treatment of all members of the teaching profession”
As a quasi-judicial body, the commission has jurisdiction over all certificated members of the education profession, including administrators, student teachers, and instructors in institutions of higher learning.
The nine-member PTPC board is composed of five teachers, one superintendent, one principal, one representative of the Alaska Department of Education and one representative of higher learning. Educational organizations nominate board members for the governor’s consideration. Once the governor appoints someone, this is then subject to approval by the State Legislature.
When it comes to filing complaints against an educator, anyone can do so if they suspect a crime or unethical action has been committed which would be grounds for discipline. If the alleged action is a violation of the Code of Ethics of the Education Profession, the laws of the State of Alaska, or the Regulations of the Department of Education, commission staff begin an investigation.
If they find sufficient evidence to indicate a violation has occurred, an official accusation is written, and a formal hearing is held before the commission. All hearings are open to the public.
In FY23, 18 Alaska educators were sanctioned. This included revoking three professional teaching certificates, ordering the surrender of three teaching certificates, suspending eight certificates, formally warning two educators and reprimanding two others. This is above the yearly average of 13.3 educator sanctions over the last 15 years.
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According to Alaska Statute, all formal complaints must provide the following information: name and contact of complainant, name of school or location of the educator against whom the complaint is made, a statement of the facts of the alleged misconduct, specific statutes or regulations that have been violated (if known), and any documentation that is relevant to the facts of the allegation.
As a quasi-judicial body, the commission has jurisdiction over all certificated members of the education profession, including administrators, student teachers, and instructors in institutions of higher learning. A final order of the commission can only be appealed to the Superior Court.
— Click here for more information about the PTPC commission, including complaint procedures, forms, past actions and upcoming meetings. The next scheduled meeting will be Feb. 1-2, 2024, in Anchorage (550 W. 7th Ave, Suite 1236). The public is welcome to participate in-person or via Zoom. For more information, call (907) 269-6579.