A special-education teacher is fighting to save her career after trying to keep her domestic violence and drug arrest a secret.

This township’s school district wanted to fire Jill Maria after learning that she was arrested in January 2017 in her home state of Pennsylvania.

New Jersey teachers are supposed to tell their employers about their run-ins with the law. But the district only learned of the arrest in December, days after Maria was arrested a second time in Pennsylvania for violating her probation and driving with a suspended license.

Maria pled guilty to simple assault, for which she was sentenced in August 2018 to 24 months of probation and ordered to complete drug testing.

A state arbitrator ruled in July, however, that the district did not have enough reason to fire Maria even though she never informed officials about her arrests.

The arbitrator, however, noted that the district could file new tenure charges that focuses on the nature of the original charges against the 38-year-old. The criminal charges against Maria were not addressed during the tenure hearings this year because her “failure to disclose the first arrest denied the District a timely opportunity to investigate the bases (sic) for the arrest,” the arbitrator said.

New Jersey 101.5 on Tuesday obtained a copy of the 2017 criminal complaint against Maria.

In an affidavit of probable cause, a Falls Township, Pennsylvania police officer wrote that police were called to a domestic disturbance on Jan. 7, 2017. Police said Maria admitted hitting a relative during an argument over a parking space. The altercation resulted in Maria injuring her relative’s finger.

Police said Maria had in her possession two blue baggies of suspected cocaine, a clear baggie of suspected meth, a clear straw with white residue and a blue container used for cutting and storing pills.

As part of a plea deal, the drug possession and paraphernalia charges were dropped.

Maria, who was hired in 2005 and taught sixth-grade students at Lawrence Intermediate School, was suspended with pay after her second arrest on a bench warrant in December. School officials said Maria refused to divulge any details when confronted about the 2017 arrest.

It is not clear how district officials learned of her arrest but law enforcement agencies regularly inform school district about arrests involving school personnel.

Maria explained that she did not tell officials about her arrests because she was humiliated, ashamed and afraid that she would lose her job.

She also argued that termination would destroy her ability to work in her profession and could result in state officials suspending or revoking her teaching credentials.

In his decision this summer, arbitrator Ralph H. Colflesh Jr. noted the importance of the regulations requiring teachers to inform their districts about arrests.

“Having entered the teaching profession, teachers take on a willingness to have their out-of-school conduct examined where there is evidence of some wrongdoing,” Colflesh writes in his opinion. “This is not a gratuitous extension of control over out-of-school life; it is necessary safeguard when alarms are sounded.”

“There is no suggestion in the record that either the first or second arrest was for conduct that involved children. However […] the District had a right to know the nature of Ms. Maria’s assault charge so that it could properly evaluate her continuation as a teacher and — if necessary — bring charges against her based on what it found.”

The arbitrator ordered the district in the meantime to reinstate Maria at the start of the school year but without back pay and without any yearly increment that she would be entitled to this year.

The district superintendent did not immediately return an emailed request for comment about whether the district intends to appeal or file new charges.

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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