NJ school fires janitor over sex-chat lunches with girl in boiler room
ELIZABETH — The school district fired a head custodian who would buy lunch every day for a needy girl. The girl said he ate with her in the elementary school's boiler room would ask her about her sex life.
The Board of Education filed tenure charges against Charles Webber in June. The termination was upheld last month by an arbitrator for the state commissioner of education.
Although school officials notified police and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency, which investigates child abuse, the arbitrator’s decision does not say that Weber was accused or charged with any crime.
In November 2016, the 15-year-old student told a social worker at Winfield Scott School 2 that Webber began buying her lunch in September because she could not afford it. He then bought her lunch every day.
While they ate in the boiler room, she said Webber asked her whether she was a virgin and pressed for intimate details about what she did with her boyfriend sexually. In one conversation, she said, he asked her whether she “liked it on the top or in the bottom.”
In another conversation, she says he offered to smoke marijuana with her off school grounds, which she declined. The district said this charge was especially “egregious” because he knew that the girl had been in rehab.
Webber also communicated with the girl via texts. In one, he asked her for a hug. In another, he acknowledges that their interaction could get him in trouble.
The girl said he also gave her $25 at the end of the year so that she could get her nails done for graduation.
Webber denied chatting with the student about sex or drugs and said he only had good intentions and compassion for a girl with a troubled home life.
The girl told the school social worker that she finally came forward with her story because she feared Webber, who she said liked to talk about beating up people and stomping their faces. She also said she put up with Webber for so long because he was buying her lunch that she could not afford because her mother refused to give her money and would not fill out the application for the free or reduced-price program.
The arbitrator, Alan A. Symonette, wrote that he does not believe Webber to be “a sexual predator as described in some of the School District’s allegations,” but that he did exercise “exceptionally poor judgement that is highly inappropriate in the school environment.”
“This cannot be dismissed with a lighter penalty,” the arbitrator wrote, upholding the district's decision to fire him. “[Webber’s] actions can appear to be naive and immature but the nature of the relationship especially as documented shows that that behavior would destroy public respect for school district employees and confidence in the operation of the school.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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