A Protection from Abuse Order in Pennsylvania can cause you a multitude of troubles. You may be forced to leave your house, be barred from contact with your spouse or partner, have restricted access to your children, and so on. And even beyond these restrictions and disruptions, a PFA could have far-reaching consequences for your life, and even your career, if you are a certified early childhood educator. You must be prepared for the possibility that the Pennsylvania Department of Education could take disciplinary action against your credentials, possibly revoking your certification and license to teach.
What is difficult to stomach is that you've worked hard to get where you are, and yet a single allegation of violence (no matter how unfounded) could result in a PFA order that could have a cascading effect, ultimately jeopardizing your teaching career.
The key to avoiding this outcome is to be proactive in fighting the PFA with the help of a seasoned Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. If you are an early childhood instructor who has been served with a PFA, here's what you need to know about safeguarding your career.
About PFAs in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order is a civil order that provides legal protection to victims of domestic violence, harassment, and other related crimes. The petitioner is the person who is requesting protection, while the respondent is the one accused of violence. Because a PFA is a civil action, the court can issue you without you having been arrested or charged with any crime. The judge only needs to be convinced that you are a threat to the petitioner.
In most cases, the judge will issue a temporary PFA that goes into effect immediately and lasts for up to 10 days. This temporary order prohibits contact with the petitioner until a final PFA hearing can be scheduled. At this hearing, you have the opportunity to challenge the PFA and tell your side of the story. You may appear with an attorney, call witnesses, and cross-examine the petitioner's witnesses. If your arguments are successful, the judge will either dismiss the temporary PFA or allow it to expire. If the petitioner prevails, the judge will issue a final PFA that will last for up to three years.
Could My PFA Show Up in Criminal Background Checks?
No. A PFA does not constitute a criminal conviction; it is a civil judgment, and thus it will not be found on criminal background checks. However, if you violate the PFA order in any way, you could face charges of criminal contempt. You could face up to six months imprisonment if you are convicted. Additionally, your conviction will show up in criminal records checks.
How Could a PFA Result in Disciplinary Action Against My Teacher Certification?
Although your PFA will not be found in routine background checks, the Department of Education may still be alerted to it in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
- Anyone who knows about the PFA (e.g., a colleague, coworker, parent) can file a complaint directly to the Department of Education.
- The PFA will be visible on court records. If the board searches these records for any reason, they might see the PFA.
- If you're convicted of violating the PFA, the court may report your conviction to the board.
The Department of Education holds its certified educators to high standards of behavior--especially so for early childhood educators. Even if you're never charged with a crime, the existence of a PFA suggests to the board that you may have committed misconduct at a level that breaches the public trust. This may trigger an investigation of your teaching credentials. The board may take disciplinary action if it believes there has been wrongdoing. They might choose to be lenient and only impose a fine or a formal reprimand--but at worst, they could rescind your certification as an early childhood instructor.
What Can I Do To Safeguard My Career if I Am Served With a PFA?
If someone files a Protection from Abuse Order against you, an experienced defense attorney can help you take any or all of these steps to reduce the chance of losing your certification or license as an early childhood educator.
- Challenge the temporary PFA to keep it from being finalized. At your PFA hearing, you can appear with your attorney to present evidence showing that the PFA is unnecessary or erroneous. If your evidence is compelling, the judge will not convert it into a final PFA. This will not necessarily stop the PFA from appearing in court records, but if the Department of Education raises an issue about it, it is still easier to defend a PFA that never became final.
- Appeal the final PFA. If the PFA is finalized, you can file a Motion to Reconsider or file a formal appeal to the Superior Court to try to get it vacated.
- Petition to have the PFA expunged from court records. This request can only be made if the temporary PFA was not withdrawn or dismissed before it was made final.
- Directly address any concerns raised by the Department of Education. If the PFA ultimately results in an investigation by the licensing board, your best course of action is to address these concerns willingly and openly with the board. It is a good idea to find an attorney experienced in professional license defense who can represent your interests and negotiate with the board for leniency.
If you are an early childhood educator in Pennsylvania who has been served with a PFA, it's important to be proactive in your response to reduce the risk to your certification and credentials. A qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer can improve your chances of successfully challenging the PFA as well as protecting your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many defendants with a wide range of issues surrounding PFA orders. Contact the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 today to discuss your case.