Sunday, July 24, 2016
Arbitrator: Fight on school grounds warrants dismissal even if no students are present
The Respondent in a teacher tenure proceeding was a tenured support staff employee of the Pleasantville, NJ school district. While she was working at the office of the vice principal another employee came to the office to deliver an item to the vice principal. Aware that this employee had recently been promoted to Director of the C.A.R.E program, Respondent asked the other employee why she had not been included on the C.A.R.E. provider list. The employee responded that "everyone knows she ... does not like children."
A short time later, Respondent approached the employee and asked her about the remark. An exchange of words escalated into a physical confrontation and the two "started to wrestle, punching, and pulling hair" until they were separated by security.
As a result of this incident the district filed tenure charges against both employees. Respondent was charged with participation in a physical altercation that "interfered with the quality of the educational and professional environment of the school, the students' education" which "created an unsafe working environment for other District employees."
The charge was submitted to Arbitrator Lewis Amis for resolution.
Arbitrator Amis rejected Respondent's contention that she had only been defending herself, concluding that she had become "too deeply embroiled" to avoid responsibility. While she had not been the first to become physical, she had become "fully engaged."
Finding the tenure charge supported by the evidence, Arbitrator Amis upheld the dismissal, concluding:
It goes without saying that violence in any workplace need not be tolerated. That principle is especially relevant in an educational setting where a core value should be the use of reason as opposed to irrational force to resolve differences. The Respondent's argument that there were no repercussions from the altercation that affected the pedagogical and administrative stability of the district, is without merit. Even though there were no student witnesses, the fight was a public event in a public school setting, and it was highly publicized. The district had no choice but to respond firmly, as it did. The Respondent's dismissal, therefore, will be upheld.
Arbitrator Amis' award can be found here.