In a recent decision, an arbitrator returned a teacher to the classroom despite substantiating his troubling acts – rubbing cream on a student in his home – and holding that the teacher should not work as a “mentor” or be assigned by the district to work one-on-one with “at-risk students.”
In the spring of 2018, tenure charges were brought against teacher Albert D. Porter by the Vineland school board, alleging violation of the district’s inappropriate staff conduct policy and seeking dismissal from his tenured teaching position. After a 120-day suspension and loss of one pay increment, the arbitrator returned the teacher to work.
The tenure charges alleged that, on more than one occasion, in January of 2018, Porter communicated with a 15-year-old member of the boys’ basketball team via text messages with the phrase, “what would Jesus do?” at the bottom of the messages.
Additionally, on several occasions, Porter transported the same student from school to the teacher’s personal residence in violation of district policies.
While at his home, Porter applied a cream substance to the bare back of the student, which the teacher referred to as “blessed cream.” The child’s parent testified she gave Porter permission to drive her son home from basketball practice. However, she never gave Porter permission to take her son to Porter’s home. The district argued that Porter violated several portions of the district’s inappropriate staff conduct policy, which includes staff transporting a pupil in a personal vehicle to one’s personal residence.
Porter was a tenured social studies teacher and head coach of the boys’ basketball team at Vineland High School. Additionally, Porter had been assigned as a “mentor” for one study period per day in order to assist “at-risk” students.
Despite a rather extensive record presented by the district in this matter, with little question as to the veracity of the facts, the arbitrator determined that dismissal from his teaching position was too harsh, ruling that he should be suspended with some loss of pay instead.
Porter had been previously disciplined for an incident in December of 2017 where he inappropriately addressed the boys’ basketball team and discussed sexually explicit matters degrading to women, prompting his removal from his coaching position. Lastly, the arbitrator ordered that because Porter did not hold a certification to be a mentor, he should no longer provide that service to students deemed to be at-risk.
Because of the very delicate nature of these types of tenure hearings, districts are reminded to keep their board attorneys – and any appropriate reporting agencies — apprised as soon as any type of concerning behavior is alleged. For more information, please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.