NJ teacher cleared of raping student still loses his job after other accusations
A former New Jersey teacher who beat rape charges in Massachusetts has lost his teaching certificate after being accused of helping students cheat on tests, allowing minors to drink alcohol on field trips and having sexually explicit conversations with female students.
According to an appellate court decision Thursday, Benjamin Norton, a former teacher at Ramapo Indian Hills High School and Lodi High School, was indicted in 2007 in Massachusetts on charges of rape, indecent assault and battery and purchasing alcohol for a minor. The charges, which were acquitted by a jury in 2011, stem from a student trip to Cape Cod that Norton was chaperoning.
While he avoided prison, he couldn't save his career.
In September 2011, his alleged rape victim filed charges against him with the State Board of Examiners, which controls who gets teaching certificates in New Jersey. On May 31, 2013, following a four-day hearing, an administrative law judge found that Norton had engaged in "unbecoming conduct warranting the revocation of his teaching certification," the appellate decision states.
Norton received his teaching certification in 1993, according to court documents. In spring of 2002, he was employed as a chemistry teacher at Ramapo High School. He then went on to teach at Lodi High School from 2002 to 2007. During his time at Lodi High School, he organized and chaperoned several trips, including two trips to Cape Cod and a trip to the Florida Keys.
The appellate decision states that in 2002 and 2003, Norton "committed numerous acts of inappropriate conduct during those student trips." The administrative law judge found that Norton allowed students to drink and purchased alcohol for students during a trip to Florida. The decision also states that he knew students were smoking marijuana, but he didn't discipline them or inform parents and administrators.
In addition, court documents state that Norton tried to convince two female students to remove their bathing suit tops and told them about a sexual act that his wife had performed on him. The court also said that he picked inexperienced, male college students to chaperone some of the trips.
Also, the decision states, the teacher, "inappropriately fed test answers to certain select students."
According to court documents, however, the administrative law judge rejected the most serious charges against Norton, finding that the State Board of Examiners couldn't prove that the teacher ever sexually assaulted a female student during the trips or had any type of sexual contact with a student.
Norton appealed the ruling by the state commissioner of education to revoke his certification. In his appeal, the teacher contends that his right to due process was violated. Norton claims the administrative law judge excluded pages from a website stating that he was a "well-regarded teacher" who got along well with students and parents. He also claims that certain documents were considered, even though they were not formally admitted as evidence to the administrative law judge. The appeals court, however, ruled that his "due process argument is without merit."
He further contends in his appeal that some of his behaviors didn't constitute misconduct, and also challenged the credibility of the students who testified in the hearing.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.