N.J. Supreme Court Rules Tenured Teacher Can be Disciplined or Terminated Based on 'Unbecoming Conduct'

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A tenured teacher accused of sexually abusing a student can be brought up on disciplinary charges and fired even if the assault case is not proved the state Supreme Court ruled May 17 in In the Matter of the Tenure Hearing of Gilbert Young Jr. A-39-09. The 6-1 decision with Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto dissenting involved former Roselle teacher Gilbert Young Jr. who lost his teaching job for “unbecoming conduct.”

The Case

According to court papers a former Roselle student who had been taught by Young told a high school nurse during a 2007 visit that he and the teacher had engaged in sexual activity during the 2004-2005 school year. The youth identified only as C.W. was 16 when the alleged incident occurred. C.W. said Young groped him in a car in a park on one occasion and had oral and anal sex with him on another.

An administrative law judge in the tenure proceedings subsequently found C.W.’s account credible.

Young denied the allegations and argued that once the state Department of Children and Families determined the allegations were unfounded that should have been the end of the matter.

The Supreme Court Decision

The court disagreed noting the state investigation was conducted immediately with the goal of protecting the child. In this case C.W. no longer was a student. A subsequent police and school district investigation was aimed at determining whether Young met the standards required of a teacher.

“An interpretation of a statute should not lead to an absurd result” Justice Virginia Long wrote for the majority.

Justice Rivera-Soto disagreed indicating the law was clear in his dissenting opinion. “By cloaking the disciplinary charges as ‘conduct unbecoming’ when the charges are firmly and exclusively rooted in the original but declared-unfounded child abuse or neglect complaint the court has permitted that which the Legislature explicitly forbade thus rendering that statute utterly superfluous and meaningless” Rivera-Soto wrote.