Sharman M. Heotis, Petitioner-Appellant,
Colorado State Board of Education, Respondent-Appellee.
and County of Denver District Court No. 16CV32157 Honorable
John W. Madden IV, Judge
A. Gomez, Brooke M. Copass, Denver, Colorado, for
J. Weiser, Attorney General, Julie C. Tolleson, First
Assistant Attorney General, Jenna M. Zerylnick, Assistant
Attorney General, Sarah P. Roller, Assistant Attorney
General, Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellee
1 Section 19-3-304(2)(l), C.R.S. 2018, requires
public school employees who have reasonable cause to know or
suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect
to report this fact to appropriate authorities immediately.
This case requires us to determine whether a public school
teacher must follow the reporting duties of section 19-3-304
despite the circumstances in which he or she learns of or
suspects child abuse and neglect. We conclude that a public
school teacher's reporting duties do not cease when he or
she leaves the classroom.
2 In this case, the district court reviewed and upheld a
final order of respondent, the Colorado State Board of
Education (Board), denying the teacher's license renewal
application of petitioner, Sharman M. Heotis. The Board
denied Heotis's renewal application because while she was
employed as a public school teacher, she did not report to
authorities that her then-husband had sexually abused their
daughter from the time their daughter was three years old
until she was eleven. The Board determined that her failure
to report the abuse amounted to "unethical behavior
because it offended the morals of the community"
according to Colorado's Teacher Licensing Act, section
22-60.5-107(4), C.R.S. 2018.
3 On appeal, Heotis makes two broad contentions in
challenging the district court's decision. First, she
contends that the Teacher Licensing Act is unconstitutional,
both facially and as applied to her, because this Act does
not provide for a range of sanctions for misconduct. Second,
she contends that the evidence in the record does not support
the Board's conclusion that she "engaged in
unethical conduct because it offended the morals of the
community" on the ground that she learned of the abuse
in her role as a parent. She thus contends that the
Board's denial of her license renewal application was
"manifestly excessive" and a "gross abuse of
discretion." Because we disagree with Heotis's
contentions, we affirm the district court's judgment.
Heotis's License Renewal Process
4 Several months before the expiration of her teacher's
license, Heotis submitted a renewal application to the Board.
The Board voted to deny her application based on her
"immoral conduct and unethical behavior regarding her
failure to report the abuse of her daughter."
5 Heotis then filed a request for a hearing at the Office of
Administrative Courts. Following a three-day hearing, the
administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an initial decision
upholding the Board's denial of Heotis's
teacher's license renewal application. The ALJ determined
that Heotis's conduct offended the morals of the
community, finding, in part, as follows:
• Heotis "testified that it was not important to
her to know what had actually transpired between her husband
and her daughter."
• Heotis "chose not to report the abuse."
• By not reporting the abuse of her daughter, Heotis
placed her daughter "at risk of suffering further abuse
at the hands of [the husband]," and "keeping the
matter secret meant that [Heotis] took no steps to obtain any
help" for her daughter.
• After learning about the abuse, Heotis permitted her
husband "to teach music lessons to others, including
children, in the home." "[T]hese lessons regularly
occurred when [Heotis] was not at home."
• After her daughter's friend's mother reported
the abuse, Heotis responded, "[W]hy are you trying to
ruin my life?"
• Heotis pleaded guilty "to a misdemeanor count of
child abuse" and received a deferred sentence.
• In retrospect, Heotis "wishes she had reported
the abuse" and "acknowledged that she should not
have been influenced by the request of an 11 year-old [sic]
to keep the abuse a secret."
• Although an expert witness concluded that Heotis
"suffered from [battered woman syndrome],"
Heotis's failure to report her husband's abuse was
not due to this syndrome but was "entirely due to
[Heotis's] own assessment of the damage that reporting
would cause to her family life."
6 The Board adopted the ALJ's initial decision in its
final order denying Heotis's license renewal application,
determining that Heotis engaged in "unethical behavior
because it offended the morals of the community," and
that the ALJ's findings and conclusions regarding why
Heotis failed to report the abuse of her daughter were
supported by substantial evidence. The Board reasoned that
because Heotis failed to report the abuse, her daughter
"remained in danger of continued abuse" by the
husband and that Heotis's failure to report "placed
other children at risk" because the husband continued to
teach children private music lessons in Heotis's home
after she learned of the abuse.
7 Heotis then brought an action for judicial review of the
Board's final order. In a detailed and reasoned decision,
the district court upheld the Board's order.
8 To address Heotis's contentions, we first discuss the
Board's authority to deny a teacher's license renewal
application under the Teacher Licensing Act. We then consider
the standard for judicial review of final agency actions. We
last turn to Heotis's specific contentions on appeal.
9 The Board may deny an application for renewal of a
teacher's license when the Board determines that an
applicant is "professionally incompetent or guilty of
unethical behavior." § 22-60.5-107(4). The
Board's rules define "unethical behavior" as
"immoral conduct that affects the health, safety, or
welfare of children, [or] conduct that offends the morals of
the community." Dep't of Educ. Rule
2260.5-R-15.02(10), 1 Code Colo. Regs. 301-37 (effective
until Aug. 14, 2018) (rules renumbered effective August 14,
2018, but their content remains the same). To warrant denial
of a license, the Board must find the teacher's behavior
to be "substantial or continued." Dep't of
Educ. Rule 2260.5-R-15.01, 1 Code Colo. Regs. 301-37
(effective until Aug. 14, 2018).
Judicial Review of the Board's Action
10 A court must hold unlawful and set aside an agency action
for the following reasons:
[I]f . . . the agency action ...