May 25 2012

New Jersey Putting a Stop to Classroom Bullies

Vicki E. Alger

New Jersey is fighting to keep quality teachers and dismiss the rest. Parents have joined the fight and inspired additional legislation to streamline the process of firing teachers who bully and abuse students.

State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) was prompted to expand on New Jersey’s strong anti-bullying law to remove abusive teachers more quickly after “several high-profile incidents involving teachers who allegedly bullied students at schools in Cherry Hill, Camden and Gloucester County,” according to PhillyBurbs.com. “The vast majority of teachers care deeply about their students, but there are a few who need to be removed, and they need to be removed quickly,” Allen said. PhillyBurbs.com reported:

Cherry Hill resident Stuart Chaifetz, whose 10-year-old autistic son allegedly was bullied by staffers at his elementary school, and Julio Artuz, a 15-year-old student from the Gloucester County Special Services School District…came forward with bullying allegations against a teacher in November. In both cases, the educators’ alleged misconduct was secretly filmed or recorded. Chaifetz said he decided to conceal a recording device in his son’s clothes after noticing changes in his behavior. “Schools are supposed to be fertile ground where  children can grow into healthy individuals. But I saw my son changing,” he said. “I did what I did out of desperation.” Artuz said he was driven to record his teacher after repeated abuse. “I just wanted it to stop. I didn’t want anyone to feel the way I felt, which was the lowest I ever felt in my life,” he said. “It wasn’t once a month. It was every day.”

The Cherry Hill aides no longer are employed in the district, but an investigation into the incident is still ongoing, Chaifetz said. In Gloucester County, a teacher filmed berating and threatening Artuz remains on paid leave pending the resolution of disciplinary proceedings.

Allen said such due process often takes several months or longer, but that her proposal would speed the process so it takes no longer than six weeks from the time an allegation is reported. …If evidence is found to substantiate the allegation, the school board would be required to file tenure charges within three days or immediately fire a non-tenured employee. …The bill requires the tenured employee to be suspended without pay pending the resolution of the charges… that the certification of any employee found guilty of intimidating or harassing students be revoked, and that employees who witness bullying by teachers or other employees and fail to report it be disciplined as well.

Allen said she drafted the legislation after getting input from students, parents and teachers. She said she also spoke to officials in the Department of Education and the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “The commissioner felt it could move forward. The NJEA was not as pleased,” Allen said, adding that individual teachers she spoke to were supportive. “I think teachers want to see these bullies out of the profession, too,” she said.

So do students, parents, and taxpayers.

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