After 2nd child-rape lawsuit, NJ strips ex-principal of credentials
HILLSBOROUGH — A retired public school principal who is being sued by a second former student accusing him of raping her as a child has lost his teaching credentials.
The State Board of Examiners this month ordered the revocation of Matthew Hoffman’s certificates that allowed him to be a an elementary and mathematics teacher or principal.
The regulatory body ordered the revocation based on a 2009 lawsuit by a former Hopewell Valley Regional School District student who said Hoffman had repeatedly raped him as a boy in the 1980s. In 2015, a jury found Hoffman at fault and awarded the now-adult victim a $300,000 judgment.
In 2017, a woman filed a lawsuit saying that Hoffman had repeatedly raped her in his office when she was a 4th grade student in 2006 at Woodfern Elementary School in Hillsborough, where he had been hired as principal in 1996. The now-adult woman says her parent told district officials about the abuse years later, after Hoffman had already retired.
Hoffman was never charged with a crime in either case. He denied the allegations in the Hopewell Valley case and continues to deny the accusations in the Hillsborough lawsuit, which still has not been settled or brought to trial.
New Jersey 101.5 first reported the Hillsborough allegations in July 2017, prompting the victim’s attorney to request that the case be sealed. A Superior Court judge earlier this year dismissed a request by open-government advocates to keep part of the case open to the public.
In both lawsuits, the plaintiffs filed their complaints under pseudonyms: "John Doe" from Hopewell Valley and "Jane Doe" in Hillsborough.
The same month of New Jersey 101.5’s first report, the State Board of Examiners initiated proceedings against Hoffman based on the jury decision in the Hopewell Valley case.
In April of this year, Hoffman argued to the state that his credentials should not be revoked because the Hopewell Valley case was a “he said, she said” matter with no eyewitnesses or physical evidence.
He argued that lawsuits do not require the high level of evidence or the consideration of “reasonable doubt” that criminal cases demand.
Hoffman also argued that the man who had sued had questionable motives and that the man had stated in court that he wanted to end Hoffman’s career. Hoffman also argued that some of the alleged abuse supposedly happened in a part of a school building that had not yet been constructed.
In the Hopewell Valley case, the adult man accused Hoffman of sexually abusing him from 1983 to 1988. The victim said he did not come to terms with the abuse until long after he was an adult and had sought counseling for marital problems.
The jury found Hoffman at fault but did not agree with the victim that the school district shared blame. The jury’s findings were upheld on appeal last year.
The State Board of Examiners did not agree with Hoffman’s characterization of the Hopewell Valley lawsuit, saying that he “did not directly deny the underlying conduct, nor did he deny that, after a full trial, the jury in the civil matter had ruled against him based on John Doe’s claims of sexual abuse.”
The state board’s decision says that a jury considered all the evidence at trial and found that he had sexually abused a student starting after the boy’s sixth-grade year.
“Hoffman’s conduct is unarguably behavior that falls far short of a role model,” the board’s four-page decision says. “The Board therefore concludes that the only appropriate response to Hoffman’s breach is the revocation of his certificates.”
The decision makes no mention of the pending Hillsborough case.
Robert Gold, an attorney for the Hillsborough school district, said the case remains in the pre-trial phase with both sides sharing evidence and providing depositions, which may take another year to complete.
c. 1979 — Hoffman begins his career as an educator in New Jersey public schools, according to pension records.
1980s — Hoffman works as a math teacher in the Hopewell Valley school district.
July 1996 — Hoffman is hired as a principal of the Woodfern Elementary School in Hillsborough, a district that’s a 20 minute drive from Hopewell Valley district.
June 1999 — The Hillsborough school superintendent and Board of Education award tenure to Hoffman despite opposition by a small group of parents who are displeased with Hoffman’s manner and interaction with parents, students and staff.
2009 — A former student of the Hopewell Valley district, now an adult, sues both the district and Hoffman claiming he experienced marital problems as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from sexual abuse by Hoffman that began in 1982, when the student was in Hoffman's sixth-grade math class. He says the abuse continued until 1986, when he was in the 11th grade.
December 2009 — Months after the lawsuit is filed in Mercer County, Hoffman announces an early retirement from Hillsborough, where he has been serving as principal of Auten Road Elementary School. He collects a $57,000 annual pension.
January 2013 — The date of a Hillsborough police report that police filed after district officials notified authorities about a former student’s claim that Hoffman raped and molested her in his office in 2006. Prosecutors never charged Hoffman with a crime. Police and school officials refuse requests by New Jersey 101.5 in 2017 to release a copy of the report.
2015 — A jury awards the former Hopewell Valley student a judgment of $300,000, finding Hoffman at fault for the consequences of the alleged abuse. The jury finds that the school district does not share responsibility.
June 2017 — The student who notified Hillsborough about being abused in 2006 by Hoffman files a lawsuit in Superior Court in Somerville against Hoffman, the Hillsborough school district and former school officials. The lawsuit is filed under the pseudonym “Jane Doe.”
July 2017 — New Jersey 101.5 publicly reveals for the first time the existence of the Hillsborough lawsuit, spurring the school district to review hiring and background check policies at the request of concerned parents. The news report also results in a Superior Court judge making any details of the pending lawsuit closed to the public at the request of both the alleged victim’s attorney and the school district’s attorney.
January 2018 — Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone, citing the alleged victim’s need for privacy, denies a request by three open-government advocates to reopen at least part of the case to the public.
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.