Topic 11: District moves to fire teacher on suspension

Debate Question: Is it ethical to close Chavez's "trial" to the public?

Source: The Express-Times

District moves to fire teacher on suspension
By PETER HALL
The Express-Times
04/26/02

PHILLIPSBURG - School district officials are trying to oust a tenured teacher who has been on suspension since November 2000, a attorney for the district said Thursday.

Middle school teacher Ernest Chavez is charged with "conduct unbecoming of a public employee," district labor attorney Richard Bauch said.

The charges have been filed with the New Jersey commissioner of education and will be the subject of a trial scheduled June 11 in the state's Office of Administrative Law in Newark, Bauch said.

"When a teacher is tenured, the only method of separating them from employment involuntarily is tenure charges," Bauch said.

Phillipsburg School Superintendent Gordon Pethick declined to comment on the district's action.

Bauch said the nature of the charges against Chavez are confidential. He would not elaborate on the nature of Chavez's behavior that lead to the charges.

He said the charges are the result of internal and external investigations.

Bauch said the trial would be closed to the public to protect the rights of others involved.

In December the father of a Phillipsburg Middle School student told The Express-Times that Chavez had tried to touch the man's daughter's breast. The girl, then 13, reported the incident to her mother, who contacted Phillipsburg police.

The father's name was withheld to protect the identity of the student.

Phillipsburg police Detective Lt. Larry Marino said the department investigated the allegations in conjunction with the Warren County Prosecutor's Office.

He said in December that the investigation had been closed and no criminal charges would be filed against Chavez.

Bauch would not comment on the father's allegation.

Phillipsburg School District Business Administrator Bill Poch said Chavez was suspended with pay in November 2000. Chavez began unpaid suspension March 12, Poch said.

The industrial arts teacher has been employed by the district since September 1987 and earned $50,595 a year, Poch said.

Chavez did not respond to a message left at his home Thursday. It is not known whether Chavez has an attorney.

Chavez is one of two teachers under suspension in the Phillipsburg School District. Leonard Moore, a teacher at the Phillipsburg Alternative Secondary School, was suspended in November pending the outcome of a criminal investigation.

Officials with several agencies said they were investigating allegations that the social studies teacher had an improper relationship with a student.

Last modified: Wed Sep 13 14:57:24 EDT 2000