NJ gym teacher who got PTSD from students can’t get full pension
After being physically attacked by students for the third time in a school year, Jaclyn Thompson had enough.
A doctor diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, she never returned to work and filed the paperwork work for retirement.
But the former gym and health teacher at the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District won’t be getting the hefty pension she had been looking forward to.
The state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Thompson does not qualify for an accidental disability pension, which pays more than the ordinary disability pension she now receives. Pension records show that she will get a $25,800 annual pension after a career that was less than 12 years long.
To qualify for the more lucrative pension, a retiree has to prove to their pension board that the disability is a result of a “terrifying or horror inducing event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury,” the state’s courts have said in the past.
The trauma also has to pass “idiosyncratic and subjective claims of mental disability.”
While pension officials and an administrative law judge had no doubt that Thompson could not handle her PTSD, they did not think that the classroom incidents rose to the level of “terrifying or horror inducing.”
According to the Supreme Court decision, the three incidents occurred between Jan and October of 2011.
In the first incident, a 17-year-old female student with Down syndrome punched Thompson in the stomach and slapped her face. The punch left Thompson reeling in the nurse’s office for some time.
In the second incident several months later, a16-year-old boy became angry, shoved her shoulders and spat on the ground.
In the final incident, a 15-year-old boy with autism called her an “a**hole” and threatened to “kick your a**” after she corrected him for hitting another student with a ball. The student then held her hands behind her back and threw three punches at her face, which she dodged.
The court record says Thompson went home that day and became “hysterical” and had an “almost panic attack."
Her police officer husband referred her to a police psychologist who diagnosed her with PTSD and said that she did not belong “in any kind of school atmosphere.”
An administrative law judge, however, found her mental disability to be “the very definition of an idiosyncratic response.” The decision was upheld last year by an appellate panel and again on Thursday by the state's highest court.
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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