On Aug. 28, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court overturned tenure charges for inefficiency brought against an elementary teacher where she had been assigned to a teaching position without having the proper endorsements.

In Pugliese v. Newark State-Operated School District, Felicia Pugliese had been teaching in the district for more than fourteen years and possessed an instructional certificate with an endorsement in Language Arts Literacy. While employed in the district, Pugliese taught reading to elementary school students and eventually obtained tenure in this position. Thereafter, district administrators assigned Pugliese to teach social studies to middle school students, despite the fact that she did not possess a social studies endorsement.

Following two consecutive years of poor evaluations, the district filed tenure charges against Pugliese, asserting inefficiency in her lesson design, student engagement, and knowledge of content and pedagogy. The district successfully prosecuted inefficiency charges against Pugliese, and terminated her employment. Her appeal to the Chancery Division was ultimately dismissed. Pugliese then appealed to the Appellate Division arguing that her assignment was illegal because she did not possess the appropriate endorsement, which meant that she was not “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to the argument, the board could not demonstrate inefficiency because the board was at fault for placing her in a position for which she was not highly qualified.

While the Appellate Division decision focused on other issues, the court expressly addressed Pugliese’s anti-inefficiency argument. In doing so, the court agreed with Pugliese that she was not highly qualified according to NCLB requirements, and further noted that she was not certified under New Jersey regulations to teach middle school social studies nor was she even eligible for such an endorsement.

The court’s decision determined that because Pugliese was not highly qualified for the position, her appointment was “contrary to law” and therefore, “[a]s a matter of law,” the district could neither evaluate nor terminate Pugliese for inefficiency in the middle school social studies position. The court concluded by reversing the Chancery Division decision and vacating the original arbitration award, restoring Pugliese’s tenured employment.

For more information on this decision, board members may contact their board attorney or the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.

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