IN THE MATTER OF THE TENURE CHARGES AGAINST MADHUMITA CHAKI, FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, SOMERSET COUNTY.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 12, 2012
On appeal from the Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 25-2/11.
Bergman & Barrett, attorneys for appellant Madhumita Chaki (Michael T. Barrett, of counsel and on the brief).
Parker McCay, P.A., attorneys for respondent Franklin Township Board of Education (John E. Collins, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent Commissioner of Education (Beth N. Shore, Deputy Attorney General, on the statement in lieu of brief).
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Haas.
Madhumita Chaki appeals from a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Education (the Commissioner) terminating her from her tenured teaching position with the school district of Franklin Township for conduct unbecoming a teacher. We affirm.
Chaki was hired by the Franklin Township Board of Education ("Board") in September 2006 and received tenure in September 2009. The charges at issue in this case arose out of a classroom incident in Chaki's first-period Honors Chemistry class. In an attempt to illustrate a chemistry concept, Chaki made inappropriate comments about Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans.
Following an investigation, Chaki was suspended without pay and tenure charges were filed with the Commissioner and transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law for a contested hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). During the hearing, two students testified who were present in the class at the time Chaki made remarks about ethnic groups, including her characterization of African Americans as lazier than anyone else although they had a lot of potential, her statements that Caucasian people could no longer afford to live in New Jersey, her comment that Spanish people were working class, and her contention that Asian people are in the sciences and, therefore, making money. In addition to testimony from the two students, the school officials who participated in the investigation testified. Fifteen students signed statements specifically attributing the use of the word "lazy" to Chaki during that classroom discussion. Those statements were also considered by the ALJ.
In her testimony, Chaki denied making disparaging ethic remarks. She admitted that she used ethic demographics to illustrate a chemistry point, namely, whether a sample of isotopes collected from a location would remain constant all of the time. By way of analogy, she testified she told the students that the community where she lived had been entirely Caucasian, but they had grown old and moved out for many reasons, and the people buying the homes in her neighborhood were Asians because "high tech" jobs were in the area. She explained to the students that she bought a house in that area because she's Asian.
When asked during cross-examination what she said about "black students, " she stated:
I told [sic] I never use the word black in the classroom. I always use African-American. And whatever I told, it was a reprimanding tone. I told the students not to laugh about the African-Americans because I have seen always the smartest students in my class were African-Americans, and I also see a lot of African-Americans in lab chemistry classes, they're very smart, they should be in honors had they worked hard. That's the comment ...