March 1, 2024

Paterson Teacher Suspended Over a Post on Facebook

A first-grade teacher in Paterson, N.J., was suspended on Thursday after she posted on her Facebook page that she felt like a warden overseeing future criminals, district officials said.

The teacher, who has not been publicly identified, was suspended with pay from her position at School 21 after parents complained to the school and asked that their children be removed from her class, district officials told The Record of North Jersey.

Terry Corallo, a spokeswoman for the Paterson district, e-mailed a statement on Friday confirming that the teacher was on paid administrative leave, adding that “this matter is a personnel issue that is under investigation.”

On Friday, the teacher declined through her lawyer, Nancy Oxfeld, to comment.

Ms. Oxfeld said any comments that the teacher had made on Facebook were done on her own time and to her friends.

“My feeling is that if you’re concerned about children, you’re concerned about what goes on in the classroom, not about policing your employee’s private comments to others,” Ms. Oxfeld said.

Ms. Oxfeld, who was contacted through the New Jersey Education Association, declined to give her client’s name.

Word of the Facebook comment spread across Paterson and beyond, and spurred e-mail exchanges, water-cooler gossip and more postings on Facebook.

Irene Sterling, president of the Paterson Education Fund, a nonprofit group that supports the local school community, said parents were angry about the teacher’s comments because anyone, including her own students, could have read the negative characterizations. She said it highlighted a lack of commitment by some teachers. “It’s horrible,” she said. “And unfortunately, I don’t think she’s the only teacher in Paterson who thinks that way.”

The Paterson district, with 28,000 students and 2,425 teachers, has long been one of New Jersey’s most troubled school systems; it was taken over by the state in 1991 because of fiscal mismanagement and poor academic performance.

In a similar episode, a high school English teacher in Doylestown, Pa., was suspended recently after she called students “disengaged, lazy whiners” on her blog.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a New York University history professor who has written about education, said teachers, like other professionals, had responsibilities. He compared the episodes to a doctor talking loudly about cases on a crowded train. “It seems to me with professional responsibility comes a duty to exercise discretion,” he said.

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