WAYNE — A preschool teacher in Passaic County has been fired after calling her special-needs students “little a**holes” and confining them in a narrow bathroom as punishment.

Donna DeMarco’s termination from the Packanack Elementary School was upheld last month by an arbitrator who reviewed the case under the state’s teacher tenure law.

The arbitrator found that using the bathroom as a punishment for emotionally distraught young children amounted to “serious misconduct.”

And while DeMarco’s foul language would not be enough to fire the teacher, the arbitrator said such “conduct is demonstrative of a lack of empathy for her students, which contributed to the determination she should not be returned to the classroom.”

DeMarco was removed from duty in June 2016 after several educators told officials about her bragging about placing students in the bathroom and calling the students as young as 4 years old “little a**holes” and “little doucebags.”

The district said she also called one student who had a dirty diaper “Stinky Pete.”

A child-welfare investigator from the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency said DeMarco’s actions did not amount to abuse, but he did conclude that she had placed a student in harm’s way by leaving him in the bathroom.

DeMarco did not deny that she used the bathroom as a de-escalation method for students who would not calm down, but said that the bathroom door was never locked, according to the arbitrator’s summary of the case.

DeMarco also admitted using foul language to describe her students to her colleagues and apologized. She said “Stinky Pete” was not meant to be offense — it was a character from the “Toy Story” movies, which she used as inspiration for pet names for all students.

DeMarco said termination was too harsh of a punishment because her students were not harmed, she was well-liked by parents and was an effective teacher.

But arbitrator Deborah Gaines said it was wrong to place unsupervised students in a cramped bathroom where they could potentially hit their heads on the toilet or tiled surfaces. Gaines said that the bathroom door was so heavy and hard to open, that the restroom amounted to a confined space for a 4-year-old.

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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 sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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