On appeal from a Final Decision of the Office of Children's Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services, Case No. AHU-03-059.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Coburn and Gilroy.
Appellant W.W., a former third-grade elementary school teacher, appeals from the February 14, 2006, Final Decision of the Office of Children's Services, affirming the Office of Children's Services, Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit's (IAIU), determination that "W.W.'s actions on March 7, 2002, toward D.H. constitute[d] child neglect pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 to -8.106."*fn1 We affirm.
On March 7, 2002, D.H., a nine-year-old male student struck another student in W.W.'s classroom. During a class break, W.W. telephoned D.H.'s mother, Ms. H., and informed her of D.H.'s misconduct. Responding to the telephone communication, Ms. H. proceeded to the school, entered W.W.'s classroom, and sat in the rear of the classroom until lunch recess. Following her conversation with Ms. H., W.W. noticed Ms. H. removing her belt from her waist. Ms. H. then instructed D.H. to stand by the blackboard, and struck him on the buttocks with the belt for approximately two minutes. Responding to the boy's screams, Joan Brand, the Assistant Student Director and Teacher Facilitator of the school proceeded to W.W.'s classroom where she noticed that the classroom door window was partially covered with double-wide construction paper, which she had not noticed while walking through the school building earlier that morning. Brand opened the classroom door without knocking and observed:
[W.W.] was standing in the room with her arms crossed. The mother was probably about two feet away, and she was fastening a belt back into her pants. Her child was in front of her . . . crying . . . his sweatpants were down around his legs, and he was kind of in a bent position.
No other children were in the classroom. Brand immediately reported the matter to her supervisor and to DYFS.
Following receipt of the referral, IAIU Investigator James Gregory responded to the school that day and commenced his investigation. After discussing the matter with Brand, Gregory proceeded to D.H.'s home, where he spoke to D.H. and his mother. D.H. told the investigator that W.W. had called his mother into the school because he was "messing around with another kid." After his mother arrived, she took off her belt, made him pull his pants down around his ankles, and beat him with the belt. When asked what the teacher was doing during this time, D.H. replied, "She was putting a piece of paper up on the window of the classroom door." Ms. H. admitted to Gregory that she had beaten her son with a belt in the classroom because she wanted to impress upon him the importance of doing well in school. Although she did not remember how many times she had struck D.H.,
she told Gregory that "it was enough times that he got the message." When asked what the teacher did during the beating, Ms. H. responded that W.W. did not try to stop her from disciplining her child and that W.W. "did cover the window with paper."
During the course of his investigation, Gregory had also spoken to a school custodian who acknowledged being near W.W.'s classroom at the time of the incident, when he heard the child scream. The custodian further advised that after having heard the scream, he looked around the edge of the paper, covering the window, and saw W.W. and "a lady beating a kid with a belt." On September 10, 2002, IAIU issued its report, substantiating W.W.'s neglect by failing to intervene as D.H.'s temporary caretaker, putting him at risk of significant harm.*fn2
Following notification of IAIU's determination, W.W. requested a dispositional review. DYFS offered W.W. the choice of a dispositional review or a hearing at the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). On December 12, 2003, W.W. requested an OAL hearing. The hearing was conducted on October 26, 2004, at which time Brand, Gregory, and W.W. testified.
W.W. testified that after speaking to Ms. H. in the classroom but prior to leaving the room, she noticed Ms. H. starting to remove her belt while instructing D.H. to stand by the blackboard. Ms. H. pulled off her belt and beat D.H. for "maybe two minutes." W.W. testified that she was in shock and did not intervene between D.H. and his mother because she "felt if I put myself in between them, there might have been some physical harm done to me as well . . . ." W.W. denied that the classroom door window was completely covered with paper and denied adding paper ...