Michael Muñoz was issued a letter of censure by the body that grants and renews administrator licenses in Minnesota, a punishment he incurred for plagiarizing messages to students and families as well as graduation speeches.
The public reprimand will stay in his file for a year, but is a less serious measure than license revocation or suspension. The decision does not affect Muñoz's ability to work as an administrator in Minnesota.
"The Code of Ethics requires that a licensed school administrator not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation in the performance of professional duties ... The Board finds that your actions violated the Code of Ethics," the letter of censure says.
The board unanimously agreed to issue the letter, which will be in Muñoz's file until June 28, 2022.
"We only issue three or four of these per year, so what that tells you is this is pretty serious," said Board of School Administrators Executive Director Anthony Kinkel. He added that the board was first made aware of Muñoz's conduct through a January complaint.
In a March 18 letter to the ethics committee, Muñoz's counsel acknowledged the “severity” of his behavior and described his conduct as “poor choices,” according to the letter.
Muñoz has admitted to plagiarizing emails sent to staff and families, a practice first flagged following a note sent last Thanksgiving. Previous examples of plagiarism were subsequently unearthed.
"I want to say I am really sorry that I made the bad choice that I did to plagiarize the Thanksgiving letter that was sent to you last week," Muñoz said in an apology to staff at the time. "I know by doing this I have damaged your respect and trust in me."
The censure comes as Muñoz tenure in Rochester is wrapping up. His term as superintendent ends June 30, at which time Kent Pekel will become interim superintendent for one year.
Muñoz did not yet respond to a request for comment.
What is the Board of School Administrators?
The Board of School Administrators oversees licensing for administrators in Minnesota public schools. The body was created in 2001 by the Minnesota Legislature, and members are appointed by the governor.
In addition to investigating potential ethical violations, the board produces accountability reports, assists in licensure processing and reviews programs to prepare school leaders.
The board’s 10 members are split into five committees: executive, ethics, licensing, professional development and program review, and legislative/communication. For investigations such as the one Muñoz went through, the ethics committee is most important.
Deb Henton, who served on the board for eight years and is currently the executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said the ethics committee conducts its work separate from the other committees in order to protect those involved. When she was the chair of the licensing committee, she only knew how many open cases the ethics committee was processing or had closed, but never the identities of those involved.
“There was always confidentiality for all parties involved,” Henton said.
How does a license investigation work?
In a typical year, the board receives about 120 complaints, said Kinkel. All are presented to the ethics committee, but only about half are taken on as investigations. Members judge an issue against a code of ethics to determine if it could constitute a violation.
During the pandemic, the board’s caseload dropped, with about 80 complaints total, just under half of which have resulted in investigations, Kinkel said.
Typically, the first step for any claim the board chooses to look into is the letter of notification, composed by Kinkel and the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, outlining the allegations against the administrator and providing them an opportunity to respond.
Sometimes, the ethics committee may require more information and request Kinkel conduct interviews with involved parties. Often, the school district has already collected data through its own investigation, Kinkel said.
The duration of investigations vary based on the offense and available information, said Kinkel, especially if there are legal matters involved. The board waits for a court decision if there is one pending relating to allegations in an investigation. Typically, the process takes about three months if it doesn't involve such a dispute, he said.
All parts of the process are kept confidential until the board comes to a conclusion regarding any punitive action.
“Even an accusation damages somebody's reputation, and their job opportunity. And so, under the Minnesota data privacy act, we have to keep everything private until such time that our board believes that the person has violated Minnesota statutes on immoral character conduct or the Minnesota code of ethics for administrators,” Kinkel said.
What happens after an investigation?
If the ethics committee decides to take up a complaint, there are several possible outcomes:
Subject remains licensed: the committee found no grounds to discipline the administrator
Letter of censure: the Board of School Administrators and Attorney General co-author the letter, which outlines the wrongdoing by the official. This stays in the person’s file for one year before being removed.
Probation: The individual stays licensed, but under the condition that they complete a certain set of activities. Many of these offenses are against those struggling with substance abuse. Retaining their license may be conditionally based on completing therapy, for instance. This offense stays in the person’s file permanently.
Suspension: The person temporarily loses their license, typically for two years. The individual cannot work in Minnesota when their license is suspended.
Revocation: The administrator's license is almost certainly permanently removed.
When has the board previously taken action against administrators?
A data request to the board regarding any punitive action taken from October 2017 to May 2021 revealed that there had been seven license suspensions, eight revocations, five administrators put on probation, and three letters of censure issued, though all have now expired from the public record. The board's previous punitive actions against administrators in the state include revoking a Hugo principal’s license after he sexually harassed a teacher, and a ROCORI superintendent’s license after he exposed himself at several stores.
There are 7,038 administrative licenses in the state, Kinkel said, about 47% of which are active, meaning the individual is working in a job that requires the license.