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Want to Further Your Career? That's a Conflict of Interest

What if you were offered the opportunity of a lifetime, a game-changer that put your name among the other experts in your field?

You'd want to accept it, right?

Before you say yes, check out your district's and state's conflict of interest laws first.

Recently, I was offered an opportunity that I was really excited about. A speaking engagement at a conference specializing in assessment with other big names in that area. I felt like I made it.

Everything was a go until it came time to sign the contracts when legal was consulted. It was then that I was told about the conflict of interest.

You can imagine my disappointment when I wasn't able to go.

This experience also had me recounting other situations that I would have never thought of as a problem and as a rule, I don't think most teachers or edupreneurs really think about the laws around conflicts of interest. We assume that if we have permission or we are doing work on our own time, we are good to go.

That may not be the case. I spoke about my challenges a little on Periscope recently. And as I continue to grow as a professional educator, I question whether or not staying in the public school sector is in my best interest.

There are some obvious things that need to be avoided:

  • "Double dipping" - when you are getting paid once by your primary job and then you take pay during the same time for another job. Speaking engagements can fall under this category if you are getting paid. So make sure you check with your school district's legal department before you say yes.

  • Tutoring students who are in your classes for pay. It's pretty clear through the chancellor's regs in NYC that we can't tutor our own students in or out of school for money.

  • Working for any job in your "free time" during the school day - this can include working on writing projects, making phone calls, or using any school time to handle other business. Free time can be defined as lunch periods, prep periods, or any other breaks.

  • Don't use your work equipment for outside jobs either. This includes any computers or supplies provided by the school.

  • Don't use school time to advertise any outside unrelated business. Advertising of any kind for your other work within a school to leaders is not okay.

  • Don't take personal time to handle matters that take you away from your primary job in the school district. So if you were thinking, "I'll go to that conference, but I'll take a personal day to do it, so it's not a conflict of interest." Sorry, you can't do that either.

  • If you're an author, you may need to obtain a waiver so that you can receive royalties on your books if the system purchases them. Make sure to check the fine print to be sure no impropriety exists. If you're writing about stuff that happens in your classroom, you can't gather data during school time either.

  • Even coaching may be an issue in some school districts if it isn't school-sanctioned.

  • Gifts are troublesome all together, but you're better off not accepting them. There are laws about how much each child is allowed to give or contribute to younger grade teachers.

  • In some cases, travel expenditures may also be an issue. Again check your specific state and district laws before saying yes.

There are loopholes, I'm certain, to get around some of these laws so that you aren't committing any crime. In some situations, a person may be able to obtain a waiver. Check out this page for obtaining waivers in NYC to give you an idea.

The long and short of it is, that you need to be careful about where you make your money and when you do it if you work in public education. All school districts and states have different laws, so take the time to investigate and know what your rights are. There is plenty of legal advice available which can be very helpful. This is the only way to keep yourself protected.

If you have specific inquiries about your own situations, I suggest contacting your ethics office. In NYC, you can contact the office here.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please don't hesitate to ask or share. I think we all need to work together to make sure to stay above the law on this issue or maybe try to have it changed in terms of how it is used for teachers who are traveling for learning and sharing learning.

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in November 2015

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