On appeal from the Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 544-9/10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Haas.
Appellant JoAnne Bruno, a teacher in the South Hunterdon Regional School District, appeals from the January 30, 2012 decision of the Commissioner of Education. That decision affirmed the December 14, 2011 decision of an administrative law judge (ALJ), that appellant had engaged in multiple acts of unbecoming conduct, which warranted her suspension for one year without pay and the forfeiture of her salary increment for the following school year. The Commissioner also modified the ALJ's decision to require appellant, as a condition of her re-employment, to provide a medical report from a new cardiology examination performed by District-selected physicians. Appellant argues the Commissioner's decision should be reversed as arbitrary and capricious and the penalty imposed was too severe. We reject these contentions and affirm.
Appellant has been employed as a business teacher with the District for over thirty years. On August 11, 2010, the District's Board of Education (Board) filed tenure charges against her for conduct unbecoming a teacher. Appellant disputed the charges and the matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), where the Board developed the following proofs at a two-day hearing.
The school principal, James Bevere, sent appellant a memo on December 23, 2008, expressing concern that she was frequently arriving late to class, thus leaving her students unsupervised.
On January 8, 2009, Bevere advised appellant he would be observing her teach one of her classes on January 12. He also scheduled a pre-observation conference. Appellant did not appear for the conference and, as a result, Bevere had to reschedule the observation.
The class visit took place on January 21, 2009. Bevere observed that appellant had not prepared properly for the class and "[t]here was entirely too much wasted time in this class." He also noted, however, that the students "seemed to like the class."
After a class visit, the normal procedure is to have a post-observation conference between principal and teacher. However, appellant did not respond to Bevere's several attempts to schedule this conference. After seventeen days, appellant told Bevere she would not be able to meet with him until her "medical person" was available. Bevere advised appellant she could bring a union representative with her to the meeting, but not any medical personnel because he was not aware of her having any condition that would require the presence of such a person. He also asked her to provide documentation pertaining to the condition that required her to have a "medical person" accompany her and he asked her to undergo a medical and psychological examination by District-recommended physicians. Bevere made this request because "if the medical concerns were so bad that she couldn't sit in a post[-]observation, there would be concerns" about her ability to carry out daily activities as a teacher.
Appellant responded by saying she had wanted to bring the school nurse with her to the post-observation meeting, but she no longer felt that was necessary. She refused to comply with Bevere's request that she undergo a medical or psychological examination, despite advising him for the first-time that she was "on a heart monitor." Bevere postponed the meeting to contemplate a future course of action.
On February 18, 2009, appellant called out sick. Contrary to school policy, she had not left lesson plans and a list of her students in her classroom for the substitute teacher. Appellant sent in an e-mail attachment from home with a lesson plan, but other faculty members were unable to open it until later in the day. The class list had to be supplied by the main office.
During this time period, Bevere sent appellant another memo warning her for being seventeen minutes late for cafeteria duty on March 3, 2009. He also reminded her that, when she had this duty, she had to patrol ...