NJ teacher loses pay after yelling at sensitive student
MOONACHIE — An elementary science teacher who scolded a student was scolded herself — and punished with loss of pay — after district officials deemed her yelling at a student to be bullying.
The teacher at the Robert L. Craig School “yelled” at the special-needs student last school year when he wouldn’t stop playing with a calculator during class.
“For the love of God, stop, just stop that,” the teacher told the student, adding that she had “had enough.”
The was enough for the sensitive student to start crying, and for the pre-K-to-8th grade district to start a bullying investigation into the teacher, according to Public Employment Relations Commission decision released Nov. 30. The decision does not identify the tenured teacher by name, nor does it describe her as a special education teacher.
School officials said the teacher had been on notice to use a more delicate approach with the child. Just days before the calculator incident, the teacher signed off on an individualized education program, or IEP — a document that describes the services that a special-needs student will receive — that called for avoiding ridicule and encouraging “nonverbal redirection whenever possible.”
The PERC decision does not explain what the student's special needs are other than saying that he is sensitive to being reprimanded in front of his peers and that he has difficulty controlling his behavior and questions.
A Dec. 20, 2016, report by the district’s anti-bullying specialist deemed the teacher’s actions to be bullying under state law.
The student’s mother told the district investigator that the boy is “continually upset about her ‘yelling at him’ in class” because it embarrasses him in front of his peers and makes him cry.
The school board affirmed the report in January.
Her snapping at the student was not the only problem the district had with the teacher.
In February, the superintendent sent the teacher a letter scolding her for using her classroom aide as a one-on-one aide for the student, which was not required.
“Using this strategy, according to … witnesses and the student’s mother, caused this student emotional distress,” the superintendent told her.
In March, the teacher was placed on a corrective action plan. In June, the board voted to withhold her salary increment as a result of the bullying report.
The teachers union filed grievances against the district, arguing that she was disciplined without just cause. The union sought arbitration to settle the dispute.
The board opposes going before an arbitrator, explaining that the letter was evaluative, not punitive, and therefore not subject to arbitration.
PERC agreed with the board that withholding the salary and the corrective action plan should not go before an arbitrator, but will allow an arbitrator to hear arguments as to whether the teacher should be subject to “further disciplinary actions.”
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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.