WAYNE, N.J. -- An arbitrator has upheld the dismissal of a Wayne preschool teacher who locked two special needs students in a bathroom as punishment.
Donna DeMarco had been on administrative leave from Packanack Elementary School since June of last year because of her actions, which included calling the students "little a**holes and d****bags" in front of her colleagues.
Although district policy prohibits restraining children as punishment, DeMarco admitted putting two students in the bathroom "on separate occasions," the arbitrator, Deborah M. Gaines. noted in her decision.
DeMarco argued that she gave the children a "time out" in the bathroom as a "de-escalation" technique.
She also admitted calling her students names but only "out of frustration to other staff members" and not directly to the youngsters.
Firing was too harsh a penalty, she argued, especially given a "long history of exemplary service."
DeMarco had no prior disciplinary history, Gaines conceded.
"However, given the severity of her misconduct, the potential harm to her students and the inability of the District to place its trust in her stewardship, I find termination to be the appropriate penalty," the arbitrator wrote. "The potential for harm to the sudents was substantial."
Confining a child to a bathroom is bad enough, Gaines emphasized. Doing it to special needs students is dramatically worse, she said.
DeMarco "could have moved the child to a chair in another part of the classroom away from other students or gone to the administration for help," Gaines wrote.
Instead, she said, DeMarco left children "unsupervised, while emotionally distraught, in a tiny room with the potential to bump their head [and] become more distraught."
Although DeMarco admitted using derogatory language in describing the youngsters to other teachers, Gaines said she found no evidence that to or in front of any of the students.
The district argued that DeMarco's "posed a risk to the students involved" and "placed [them] in harm." School officials said she also bragged about her actions.
Yet while upholding the firing, the arbitrator had harsh words for school officials -- who, she said, didn't notify parents of an investigation into DeMarco's behavior.
"I find the District has shared culpability in this matter," Gaines wrote. "The news stories indicate that parents were upset because the school had not informed them about the investigation, and they did not learn [about it] until the state investigator called.
"It would appear had the district notified parents of an investigation involving their children, the response from parents may have been very different."
READ THE DECISION: http://www.state.nj.us/education/legal/teachnj/2017/nov/342-17.pdf
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