«FOR THE RESPONDENT: LAW OFFICE OF WILLIAM F. KOY by WILLIAM F. KOY, ESQ. JEFFREY BOWDEN, PRESIDENT, EDISON TOWNSHIP EDUCATION ASSOCIATION TYLER VAN ...»
DOCKET # 361-12/14
In the Matter of the Tenure Charges Preferred by
EDISON TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION ARBITRATOR’S
TYLER VAN PELT AWARD
ARTHUR A. RIEGEL, ESQ., ARBITRATOR
FOR THE DISTRICT:
BUSCH LAW GROUP, LLC by ARI D. SCHNEIDER, ESQ.
MARGARET DELUCA, DISTRICT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION OFFICER
FOR THE RESPONDENT:
LAW OFFICE OF WILLIAM F. KOY by WILLIAM F. KOY, ESQ.
JEFFREY BOWDEN, PRESIDENT, EDISON TOWNSHIP EDUCATION
TYLER VAN PELT, RESPONDENT
Subsequently, the parties exchanged initial disclosures and discovery. This matter was consolidated for hearing. Hearing was conducted on March 10, March 19, March 25, April 2, April 13, and telephonically on April 21, 2015.
On April 2, 2015, following conferral with counsel, May 26, 2015 was established as the due date for Mr. Van Pelt’s and the Board’s post-hearing brief.
BACKGROUND COMMON TO ALL CHARGESMr. Van Pelt has been a Teacher employed by the Board since the 2000-2001 school year.
He is currently a union representative for his building. As an employee of the Board, Mr. Van Pelt was obliged, among other things, to ensure the implementation and enforcement of all Board policies, follow administrative directives and procedures, as well as New Jersey law, and accord himself appropriately towards and amongst the other Board employees he works with on a day to day basis – i.e., not to conduct himself inappropriately in their presence and cause them embarrassment, offense, discomfort and concern. Mr. Van Pelt, however, has continuously ignored the foregoing duties and responsibilities, and worse, has demonstrated an unwillingness and/or inability to improve, correct and modify his performance.
Board Policy 3362, Sexual Harassment, states that “[s]exual harassment includes all unwelcome... verbal contacts of a sexual nature that would not have happened but for the employee’s gender.” Policy 3362 further states that “when such conduct is severe and pervasive and has the purpose or effect of unreasonably altering or interfering with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, the employee shall have cause for complaint.” Board Policy 3281, Inappropriate Staff Conduct, states in relevant part that “[I]nappropriate conduct by a school staff member outside their professional responsibilities may be considered conduct unbecoming a staff member. Therefore, school staff members are advised to be concerned with such conduct which may include, but is not limited to, communications and/or publications using emails, text-messaging, social networking sites, or any other medium that is directed and/or available to pupils or for public display.” Board Policy 3211, Code of Ethics, indicates that “the educator shall exert every effort to raise professional standards to promote a climate that encourages the exercise of professional judgment, to achieve conditions which attract persons worthy of the trust to careers in education.” Board Policy 1140, Affirmative Action Program, establishes that the program shall “promote the acceptance of persons of diverse backgrounds regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, martial status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability, or socioeconomic status.” Further, this Policy provides that the Board’s affirmative action program must “foster a learning environment that is free from all forms of prejudice, discrimination, and harassment based upon race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, martial status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability, or socioeconomic status in policies, programs, and practices of the Board of Education.” Board Policy 3321, Acceptable Use of Computer Network(s)/Computers and Resources by Teaching Staff Members, advises employees that the Board retains the right to have the Superintendent or designee monitor network activity, in any form necessary, to maintain the integrity of the network(s) and ensure its proper use.” Policy 3321 further states that “the Board provides access to computer network(s)/computers for administrative and educational purposes only.” Moreover, the foregoing Policy, in relevant part, states that “any individual engaging in the following actions declared unethical, unacceptable or illegal when using computer network(s)/computers shall be subject to discipline or legal action: (1) using the computer network(s)computers for...
inappropriate or obscene purposes.” Finally, Board Policy 3351, Healthy Workplace Environment, requires that “employees interact with each other with dignity and respect” and further states that “repeated malicious conduct of an employee or group of employees directed toward another employee or group of employees in the workplace that a reasonable person would find hostile and offensive is unacceptable and is not conducive to establishing or maintaining a healthy workplace environment.” Additionally, Article VI Section C, School Visitations by Association Representatives, of the Agreement for Professional Employees between the Board of Education Edison Township New Jersey and Edison Township Education Association, states in relevant part that “Representatives of the Association... shall be permitted to transact official Association business on school property at all reasonable times with the approval of the principal and/or Superintendent, provided that doing so shall not interfere with or interrupt normal school operations.” Mr. Van Pelt has an imperfect record of employment with the Board. Importantly, Mr. Van Pelt was first reprimanded during the 2005-2006 school year for using “the e-mail system of the [Board] on December 23, 2005 to transmit an email, which was not related to the educational mission of the Board, to every user in the District.” Thereafter, on September 28, 2007, Mr. Van Pelt received a written reprimand for failing to submit a signed Technology Agreement and an executed Appendix A of the Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace Form. Additionally, Mr. Van Pelt was issued a written reprimand, resulting in his pay being docked for one day, after he failed to provide the Board with a sufficient physician’s statement of illness following the use of a sick day. Perhaps most troubling is that the foregoing disciplinary action taken against Mr. Van Pelt has not served to modify and/or improve his conduct moving forward. Rather, it appears to have emboldened him, particularly in light of his initiation of and participation in the egregious conversation that lies at the heart of the herein Charges.
Specifically, on October 23, 2014, during a voluntary Engrade Chromebook Training, Mr.
Van Pelt invited three (3) other Board employees (Maryellen Lechelt, Maria Weber and Jonathan Bauza), via email, to join a group chat on the Today’s Meet website (https://todaysmeet.com/engraderocks) through the District’s computer network. Today’s Meet is a public web forum, accessible by all Board employees and students. The group chat spanned for a period of roughly two and a half hours and served no instructional purpose. Rather, the chat was graphically sexual in nature; discriminatory to women, lesbians, elderly persons and special education/handicap students; highly offensive to anyone not involved with same; and created a hostile work environment to other Board employees who were able to view, at any point in time, the content of the discussion.
The nature of the foregoing conversation is egregious beyond the bounds of decency. No persons and/or classifications of persons were spared. Mr. Van Pelt’s behavior, as set forth more specifically below, illustrates a complete and shameful disregard of his responsibilities as an employee of the Edison Township School District and a member of the teaching profession, including, but not necessarily limited to, violations of the above mentioned policies, New Jersey Law and the controlling collective bargaining agreement. Even worse, Mr. Van Pelt’s conduct has caused both the Board’s Administration and members of the Board’s staff grave concerns over his intentions and capabilities, to the point of no longer feeling comfortable to be in his presence or permitting him to be in the presence of other Board employees and students.
I hereby charge Tyler Van Pelt with conduct unbecoming a teaching staff member, misbehavior, neglect and/or other just cause, including but not necessarily limited to insubordination; all of which warrant his dismissal, pursuant to N.J.S.A.18A:28-5, and 18A:6-10.1, et seq. As more specifically set forth below, it is clear that he has exhibited a callous disregard for the expectations of the Board, and the rights of other employees of the Board, to conduct their daily activities in an environment that is free from harassment, discrimination, bullying and inappropriate conduct and communications, as well as an egregious breach of the professional standards imposed upon him as a member of the teaching profession.
On October 23, 2014, while attending a voluntary Engrade Chromebook Training at the Board’s offices, Tyler Van Pelt engaged in a course of misconduct that violated New Jersey Law, as well as Board policies, regulations and procedures regarding staff interaction with and/or concerning other staff members. More specifically, Mr. Van Pelt initiated and participated in a conversation through the District’s network, in a public chat room (“Today’s Meet”), visible to those present in the room and obtainable by any District employee and student through the Today’s Meet website, which was full of sexual innuendo, discriminatory, offensive and ultimately created a hostile work environment (the content of which is set forth more fully in Exhibit H of the Sworn Statement of Evidence). This misconduct by Mr. Van Pelt is unconscionable and constitutes unbecoming conduct, misbehavior, neglect, insubordination, and/or other just cause for dismissal.
Count 1 - Inappropriate comments about Sara Bleekinger – Engrade Trainer
On October 23, 2014, Tyler Van Pelt engaged in a course of misconduct directed towards Ms.
Bleekinger, which was inappropriate, foul, discriminatory, offensive, harassing and sexual in nature (the content of which is set forth more fully in Exhibit H of the Sworn Statement of Evidence). Such conduct resulted from a group chat through Today’s Meet that was visible to Alysia Battista and others who were present in the Training, as well as to the entire Edison School District community, as Today’s Meet is a public chat room which maintains a transcript of each conversation and is accessible to all Board employees and students.
More specifically, Mr. Van Pelt made the following comments about Ms. Bleekinger:
B. “I dare one of you to delete her whole shit”;
C. “oh she is aware of my presence... she is getting flush around the drop collar”;
D.“I made a video of her presenting and that shit gets 5 stars”;
E.“i’d like to invite her to a private backchannel discussion... all night long”;
F.“i’d like to give her some bad options”;
G. “it’s nervousness cuz [sic] I fear she may reject me... it may be over betwee [sic] us before it got started”;
H.“my next pick up line was going to be ‘how about I cook you breakfast’”;
I.“I would treat her like a queen... do you hear me a queen”;
K.“no, see, you guys don’t get it... when they are with me they love it all”;
L.“had to get the baby batter off the brain... well that is the test, if you still care after that occurs... and that’s how I have always known I’m in true love... and I love her”;
M.“can you help me with my pickup line at the end... I was gonna [sic] go with ‘you know what would look good on you? ME’”;
N.“I am thinking of a super-smart question to ask that will maker her melt... maybe ‘do you like to have your hair pulled?’... have you ever seen a crisp one hundred dollar bill?”;
O.“how do you like to do it? Do you like to shower first? Personally I like to give my undercarriage a good how’s your father beforehand.” Mr. Van Pelt’s conduct resulted in a disruption of the October 23, 2014 Engrade Training, created a hostile school environment for all persons who have had occasion to review his commentary and made it unpleasant for Ms. Battista and other staff members to be in his presence for fear that they will either be harassed, discriminated against and embarrassed; made to feel uncomfortable; and/or forced to hear and or view Mr. Van Pelt make further inappropriate and offensive comments to them, about them and/or about others.
Count 2 - Inappropriate comments about special education/handicap students