Sharman M. Heotis, Petitioner-Appellant,
Colorado State Board of Education, Respondent-Appellee.
Opinion is subject to revision upon final publication.
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.
Judges: Opinion by JUDGE FURMAN. Dailey and
Lipinsky, JJ., concur.
[¶ 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
[¶ 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
[¶ 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.
The Board's Authority
[¶ 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 ...