A former Lakehurst gym teacher who was stripped of tenure and fired after being found guilty of conduct unbecoming a teacher following a 2010 incident has lost her appeal.
In an appellate court ruling released Wednesday, a three-judge panel supported a decision against Susan Parezo and rejected her contention the decision wasn’t supported by evidence and her punishment didn’t fit the progressive discipline standard.
Parezo, who spent two decades teaching in Lakehurst, lost her job following an incident in June 2010, when students said she taped a second-grade boy’s mouth shut and singled him out as his classmates stuck used balls of tape on him.
While Parezo admitted to sticking tape on the boy’s shoulder, she denied ever putting it on his mouth and claimed she wasn’t trying to single him out from the class.
The district filed tenure charges against her that fall, including claims she humiliated and embarrassed a student and later lied about the incident to the district’s superintendent, which she both contested.
An administrative law judge ruled she inappropriately singled out the second-grader and said, in light of testimony from another teacher and several students, Parezo’s "account of the events is not credible and is not worthy of belief,” and ultimately made the decision to void her tenure and fire her from her teaching position.
Then-acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf upheld that decision as the final say in the matter, which brought about Parezo’s appeal, according to court documents.
She challenged the decision to fire her, claiming there wasn’t evidence to show her conduct was unbecoming, and the decision to fire her failed to take into account her unblemished record as a teacher in Lakehurst.
She also claimed a move by the administrative law judge to allow the students to testify in camera—that is, outside the courtroom—violated her due process rights.
Appellate Judges Francine Axelrad, William Nugent and Michael Haas shot down all three claims in an unpublished decision, knocking holes in every piece of the appeal, especially on the claim of the incident not representing unbecoming conduct.
“If appellant taped Michael's mouth, which the ALJ found she did, then she was not honest with the superintendent or the principal when she told them what happened during her gym class,” they wrote. “One could readily conclude, as the ALJ and Acting Commissioner concluded, that taping the mouth of a seven-year-old and then denying it, violates the implicit standard of good behavior which devolves upon a teacher who develops and shapes the minds of second graders.”
The judges also concluded the administrative law judge’s reasoning behind firing Parezo was well-supported, and pointed to a statement by Cerf regarding Parezo’s failure “to recognize the seriousness of her actions or take responsibility for them” as part of the “clear, thorough, and compelling” reasoning employed by the lower court.
“Considering the nature of appellant's conduct along with her continued recalcitrance, in the context of our deference to the Acting Commissioner, we do not find the sanction shocking to one's sense of fairness,” they wrote.
Neither Parezo nor her attorney were available for comment on the ruling Wednesday.