Woodbridge teacher fired after being caught shoplifting twice
WOODBRIDGE — A teacher who was busted twice in a 13-month period with shoplifting, which resulted in a social media stir, has lost a legal fight to win back her job.
Michele Schwab was fired from her $97,156 teaching position in 2016 after being caught on camera stealing a one-of-a-kind $60 picture frame from the Song of the Sea store in Beach Haven in March 2016.
The Long Beach Island store, nearly 90 miles away from this district, shared security images on Facebook. A video of the theft posted on the site racked up more than 40,000 views, including at least one of her fourth-grade students and a fellow teacher, district officials said.
Schwab blew the second chance that the district superintendent had afforded her after she had been arrested for shoplifting a hat and hoodie from the Sears at Woodbridge Center in February 2015.
Even though she admitted to store guards that she had taken the items out of the store without paying, the charge was dropped after the guard failed to show up in Municipal Court.
Schools Superintendent Robert Zega said he hoped it would be a “one-time incident” and took her off paid suspension. But Schwab turned out to be a repeat offender.
After she pleaded guilty in March 2016 as a part of the Municipal Court's conditional dismissal program, Zega and the Board of Education filed tenure charges against Schwab in order to fire her.
An arbitrator in January 2017 upheld the charges of conduct unbecoming and agreed that she should be terminated.
Conduct unbecoming has been defined by the courts as actions that “adversely affects the morale or efficiency” of the school or “has a tendency to destroy public respect” for public workers.
The principal testified in the arbitration hearings that she received eight calls from parents about the shoplifting and she had to assign a guidance counselor to put together a course to teach students about positive behavior and distinguishing rumor from fact.
The arbitrator also faulted Schwab for not notifying the school about her Sears arrest. The superintendent only found out about that arrest when he got a letter from her attorney a month later.
Schwab appealed the arbitration ruling to Superior Court, arguing that the termination was draconian and that her state of mind had been affected by health issues.
The judge in May 2017 disagreed with Schwab. An appellate decision released this week also turned her down, saying there is no basis for the courts to overturn this arbitration decision.