On appeal from the State Board of Education.
Michels and Deighan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
[236 NJSuper Page 481] Appellant Regional School District of Sussex-Wantage, Sussex County (Regional School District), appeals from a final administrative determination of the State Board of Education (State Board) that reversed a decision of the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner) and held that the appropriate penalty to be imposed upon respondent Lynn Jenisch Tyler (Tyler) for conduct unbecoming a teacher was the forfeiture of six months'
salary and the loss of salary increments for the 1987-88 and 1988-89 school years.
Briefly, in 1986, the Superintendent of Schools of the Regional School District charged respondent Tyler, a tenured teacher, with 14 instances of conduct unbecoming a teacher. These charges were certified by the Board of Education of the Regional School District to the Commissioner and Tyler was suspended without pay pending disposition of the charges. Thereafter, the matter was sent to the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case.
The matter came before an Administrative Law Judge, who heard testimony from seven students who allegedly witnessed or were subjected to Tyler's improper conduct, three parents, the school principal, Tyler and an investigator from the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The DYFS investigator had conducted two investigations regarding Tyler. The first investigation, which occurred in 1984, involved an interview with Tyler. The second investigation, which occurred in 1986, included interviews with several of Tyler's students but did not include an interview with Tyler. On Tyler's motion, and over objection of the Regional School District, the DYFS investigator was permitted to testify regarding only his 1984 interview with Tyler. The Administrative Law Judge reasoned that since he was going to hear testimony from the students that the DYFS investigator had interviewed, the investigator's testimony would be hearsay that would "overburden the record." At the conclusion of the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge found that three of the 14 charges were true, one of which was dismissed for its de minimis nature, and recommended that Tyler forfeit 120 days' salary and be held at the same salary increment for two years.
After the Regional School District filed exceptions to the Administrative Law Judge's initial decision, the Commissioner remanded the matter to the Administrative Law Judge. The remand directed the Administrative Law Judge to hear the
DYFS investigator's testimony concerning his 1986 interviews with the students to determine "whether the hearsay testimony of the DYFS investigator with regard to the earlier statements made to him by the students would be of assistance in the assessment of the credibility and reliability of their direct testimony adduced approximately one year later at the tenure hearing." The Administrative Law Judge heard the testimony of the DYFS investigator and, after reviewing the entire file, concluded that his initial findings and conclusions were valid and that the recommended penalty was appropriate. The Regional School District once again filed exceptions to this decision.
Thereafter, the Commissioner adopted the findings and determination of the Administrative Law Judge, except that he found that the Regional School District had met its burden of proof with respect to one additional charge. On this basis, the Commissioner determined that Tyler should be dismissed from her tenured teaching position. Tyler appealed.
On appeal, the State Board reversed the Commissioner's decision "since it relied on reports and information expressly prohibited from disclosure." The State Board reasoned that the DYFS investigator's testimony regarding his interviews with the students violated N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a, which mandates the confidentiality of such DYFS information in most circumstances. The State Board then conducted an independent review of the record with respect to the one additional charge and found that the Regional School District had not met its burden of proof on that charge. On the charges that the Administrative Law Judge had found to be proven, however, the State Board determined that Tyler should forfeit six months' salary and be held at the same salary level for two years. The Regional School District appealed, contending generally that the State Board "wrongly excluded" the DYFS investigator's testimony and that there was adequate evidence in the record to sustain the Commissioner's decision and the penalty that he imposed.
We have studied the entire record in light of the arguments presented and are satisfied that the determination of the State Board is not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and does not lack full support in the evidence. See Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-580 (1980); Campbell v. Department of Civil Service, 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963); Dore v. Bedminster Tp. Bd. of Ed., 185 N.J. Super. 447, 453 (App.Div.1982). See also R. ...