New Advisory Opinion from Ethics Commission Impacts Substitute Teachers

March 15, 2019Legal Alerts

The West Virginia Ethics Commission issued a new Advisory Opinion on March 7, 2019, which is going to impact the way some teachers arrange for substitutes. The opinion sought was whether it is a violation of the Ethics Act for teachers to prearrange a relative to substitute teach in their absence or place relatives on a preferred list of substitutes for their classrooms. In the opinion, which is available here, the Commission determined prearranging a relative as a substitute teacher or placing a relative on a preferred list of substitutes does violate the Ethics Act’s nepotism provisions when there are others with the authority to make those decisions.

The Commission described the county’s system as an automated system that manages teacher absences and substitute job assignments using a rotating list. However, the Commission noted the system allows teachers to prearrange a substitute without the system calling the general list of available substitutes. The system also allows a teacher to make a preferred list of substitutes for the system to call before it calls the general list. Teachers are not required to prearrange a substitute or make a preferred list, and school principals, central office staff, and the superintendent have the authority to select substitutes should the need arise.

The Ethics Act prohibits public employees from showing favoritism or granting patronage in the employment or working conditions of their relatives (defined to include spouses, parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and in-laws). Regulations issued under the act provide that public employees may not participate in decisions affecting the employment and working conditions of the employee’s relatives – if another person has authority to make the same decision, that person must do so.

The Commission held when a teacher prearranges a relative to serve as a substitute for her classroom or places relatives on a list of preferred substitutes, and another person has authority to make that decision, she is favoring her relative, which is prohibited. In other words, if teachers have prearranged substitutes or preferred lists (which would still be allowed), those prearrangements or preferred list may not include any relatives.

If you have any questions regarding education law issues, please contact your Education Law Practice Group at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.