NJ school fires special ed teacher over N-word rant about rap lyrics
PISCATAWAY — A tenured special education math teacher is out of a job after a profanity-laced tirade in his classroom that included repeated use of a racial slur.
Vincent Serpico was assigned as a special education math teacher at the high school for the 2009-10 school year after spending five years at Quibbletown Middle School as a general education math teacher, according to arbitrator John E. Sands, who presided over Serpico's tenure charge hearings.
Serpico is certified as a math teacher and a special education teacher, which is why he was transferred, despite his objections to the new post.
The unhappiness came to a head on May 8 when a student came into his class laughing about a fight where a student had knocked down a teacher, according to an arbitration decision. In his testimony during tenure charge hearings, Serpico said he got upset by that and other actions in the class, including a student wearing ear buds and hearing a student in the bathroom listening to music with "offensive lyrics and cursing."
"I said, you know, I come out of the bathroom — I go in the bathroom I hear n****, n****, n****, f*** you, suck my d***, this is all I hear all day," he said in his testimony.
Serpico's class had nine students. One student, a black girl described as "cognitively-impaired and emotionally disturbed," asked if she could go to the school's counseling area after telling Serpico that he couldn't use the words he did. Serpico defended himself by saying he hadn't directed the words at anyone and only repeated what he had heard.
What happened next was captured on video as students joked that the girl would report Serpico and he would be suspended or fired. Serpico said when he heard that, he "went ballistic" and yelled at the students.
"Everything was going through my head of all the years I wanted to put in for a transfer, all the years I was denied, all the years that I put grades in, they switched them," he said in his testimony. "
In the video reviewed by Sands, Serpico can be heard asking the students, "Report me for what?"
"I've been here so long because I'm smart," he said in one of the videos reviewed by Sands. "I only say stuff that nothing's going to happen [about] because nothing gets fixed."
In another video, Serpico can be heard saying, "I have nothing to worry about in this place ever again because nobody cares."
Sands' decision also said that Serpico did not take an opportunity to show remorse for the outburst, which could have helped to save his job.
"My goal at Piscataway was to retire from Piscataway," he said in his testimony. "I figured if I go back to the middle school and the change of environment would help me, help me stay here in Piscataway, would help me give the kids the knowledge that I was given, whether it was from teaching or personal experience."
Serpico did admit in his testimony that he "made the mistake," but added "I don't think I should lose my position over it. I would like to be transferred, but that was the whole goal." He also said that a transfer to the middle school or even out of special education would give him less anxiety.
Serpico had previously been cited for minor infractions, including being sarcastic to the point where parents and students thought he was being demeaning and hurtful, Sands said. An evaluation after his first year at the high school had said he "used language that disrespected the students in his class and addressed them in a way that was demeaning and unprofessional," according to Sands' decision. The following year he was admonished by Assistant Director of Special Education Colleen Canto for calling students "idiots," Sands' decision said.
Sands said the district met its burden of proof for the tenure charges and ultimately his termination. He said the outburst caught on video was "not just inappropriate; it served no legitimate pedagogical purpose."
"Serpico's rant is destructive of what special education students need to hear," Sands said in his decision. And District parents are appropriately concerned that a teacher of their children would so misbehave and that the District would tolerate such misconduct."
"What appears clear is that, if Serpico were to return to employment as a special education math teacher at the high school, he will continue to seethe with resentment and "mail it in" with respect to teaching his special education students," Sands added.
Serpico was earning a salary of $86,527 after 13 years, according to public records.