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Bully Tenured Teachers Would Be Fired Easier Under NJ Legislation [AUDIO]

By now, most of you have heard about the Cherry Hill Public School District teacher after the incident where audio recordings revealed teachers mocking and swearing at a ten year-old autistic boy.

Senator Diane Allen and Stuart Chaifetz
SenateNJ.com

The incident began when officials at the Horace Mann Elementary School said Aiken Chaifetz was becoming violent. But his dad, Stuart Chaifetz, says he had never shown such tendencies before, which is why he sent his son to school wearing a wire.

Stu Chaifetz says, “They (bully teachers) can really destroy lives. I saw my son changing. I saw the light leaving his eyes.”

The attorney for the teacher involved in the Chaifetz matter denies the allegations.

Julio Artuz says he was bullied by a teacher too. He explains, “He would threaten me and say he would beat me up. It was an every day thing……..I just want this to stop. I don’t want anybody else to have to feel the way that it made me feel.”

After hearing audio recordings of the teacher and an aide mocking and swearing at the boy most New Jerseyans feel the teacher should be fired immediately. It’s not as easy as that. Terminating a tenured teacher takes a long time, costs a lot of money and in the end the teacher everyone feels should be fired might never be fired anyway. One state legislator is looking to change that for teachers who are bullying kids

State Senator Diane Allen sponsored the bill that became the state’s anti-bullying law. She says she’s looking into amending that bill or drafting an entirely new one to make it easier to fire tenured teachers if it is found that they bullied a student in school.

Allen is proposing legislation that will speed the disciplinary process for teachers and other school officials found to have engaged in bullying, intimidation, or harassment of students.

Under the bill reported incidents of bullying by teachers must be investigated by the school’s anti-bullying specialist within four to ten days. If evidence is found to substantiate the accusation, the school’s superintendent must immediately report said finding to the district’s board of education, and tenure charges must be filed by the board against the employee within three days. In the case of a non-tenured employee, substantiated misconduct would result in immediate termination and revocation of his or her state certifications.

“My bill extends New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act to bullying that is conducted by teachers and other school employees,” says Allen. “Thankfully, these incidents are rare. However, recent events in Cherry Hill and Camden illustrate that current law does not provide for adequately swift or severe punishment of school staff who engage in this behavior.”

The Call For Shorter Investigations

Allen says the entire investigation should take no longer than 6 weeks.

Mike Yaple with the New Jersey School Boards Association says firing a tenured teacher right now starts with a lengthy hearing. He explains, “The process takes about a year. It can cost in the six-digits because that includes attorneys fees, paying for a substitute teacher and paying the teacher because after 120 days, by law the teachers’ salaries are restored”

Even if it is decided that the teacher in question should be fired, that doesn’t mean the teacher will be fired. Yaple explains, “It’s up to the state education officials to decide whether or not that teacher would lose their job…..Because of the time and the cost and the unpredictability, you really only see the worst of the worst cases being brought forth.”

In New Jersey, teacher tenure is job protection that is acquired after working three years and a day in a school district. Tenure was established over a century ago before the myriad of statute, regulations and case law that we have today.

Schools today operate with the oversight by the NJ Department of Education, and must follow decisions made by the New Jersey School Ethics Commission, grievances heard by the Public Employment Relations Commission, anti-nepotism regulations, and an accumulation of years of labor laws. In addition, school employees have one of the most well-financed labor unions in the state.

To remove someone with tenure, “tenure charges” can be filed for conduct unbecoming (most common); inefficiency (doing the job poorly); incapacity (person is physically or mentally unable to perform his/her job duties); or abandonment of job. Any person can file tenure charges, but it’s usually it’s a principal or school administrator. The charges are first brought to the school board secretary, who notifies the employee that tenure charges have been filed. The employee has 15 days to respond to the Board of Education. The Board of Education holds a hearing and decides whether to proceed. If the school board believes there is not probable cause, the matter is dropped.

If there is sufficient evidence, the board files the tenure charges with the state Commissioner of the NJ Department of Education. The Commissioner assigns an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to hold a hearing, and there is a process similar to a court case, with evidence presented, etc. The ALJ makes a recommendation, and the Commissioner can accept, reject or modify the ALJ’s recommendation. In some cases, the Commissioner may decide the person should only experience a loss in pay, or not lose their job at all.

There are typically two to four dozen instances a year when a board files tenure charges with the Commissioner, but some of those cases are settled or become moot if the teacher moves or quits, etc. The Commissioner only adjudicates a handful of those cases: It can range from 8 or 9 a year, and in some years it might be around 12 to 20 cases that are decided. That is a very small number out of 136,441 certified school staff throughout the state for 2010-11.

Tenure reform proposal in the state Legislature would create a multi-tiered evaluation system for teachers and principals based on merit (e.g., using student performance as one measure of success). Tenure for teachers or any principal would be revoked if they do no show improvement after two poor annual evaluations. In addition, it would take at least four years for new teachers to obtain tenure.

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