WEST ORANGE, NJ - After a long and difficult year-and-a-half for West Orange fifth-grade elementary school teacher Christopher Yonitch, he's excited to be returning to work in September.
On Feb. 7, 2013, the Washington Elementary school teacher was arrested at his home in Livingston after a student's family accused him of inappropriate behavior. He was subsequently charged with Sexual Assault and Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
In August, The Alternative Press spoke to Yonitch's attorney, Timothy Smith, who said, "the defense aggressively investigated the charges" and collected statements and evidence which, in the opinion of the defense, was "wholly exculpable" of the charges against him. Smith also said that he would not accept any type of plea bargain, and maintained Yonitch's innocence.
Unnamed sources close to the case told The Alternative Press that Yonitch had reported the girl's family to the Division of Youth and Family Services and the charges were "payback."
On Oct. 4, 2013, the grand jury dismissed the case against Yonitch, and its decision that the charges were not supported by the evidence presented meant that Yonitch would not be prosecuted and the prosecutor's office could do nothing more with the charges.
The issue of Yonitch's reinstatement with the school district was raised at that time by Interim Superintendent Jame's O'Neill. O'Neill said he was "disappointed that it took the county eight months to have it determined that there was no case and all charges would be dropped. This is unfair to Mr. Yonich and it is unfair to the school district."
He continued by saying, "I will discuss with the board what our options are going forward. The district has several options. Mr. Yonitch could be reinstated; he could continue to be suspended for an indefinite amount of time; the district could decide to do our own investigation and decide on a course of action after concluding our own investigation."
The district did decide to move forward with its own investigation, and on Monday, May 9, O'Neill told The Alternative Press, "After the grand jury failed to find sufficient reason to move forward with charges against Chris Yonitch, the school district requested the information we needed so we could conduct our own review."
"The board attorney and I reviewed all of the information we received. After careful review we determined there was also no information which would lead us to conclude that Mr. Yonitch engaged in any conduct unbecoming a professional teacher in the West Orange Schools. The only fair conclusion we could reach is that Mr. Yonitch lived under an unfair cloud for many months."
In conclusion, O'Neill stated, "If we determined anything it was that the charges were unsubstantiated and the case should have been resolved much sooner. We welcome Mr. Yonitch back to the school district and hope that the community joins us in recognizing he was the victim of an injustice." Yonitch had remained suspended with pay through the ordeal.
Yonitch and his family moved to West Orange when he was in third grade. He attended Pleasantdale Elementary School and was a boy scout for several years at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. He then attended Edison Middle School and West Orange High School, graduating in 1994.
After attending a two-year community college in Sussex County, Yonitch studied Communications and Elementary Education at William Paterson, graduating in May 2001.
Joining the Peace Corps had long been a dream for Yonitch, and after graduation he began a two-year stint in Bulgaria teaching English to middle schoolers.
After returning to the states, Yonitch decided that he wanted to work in the town in which he grew up, and in the fall of 2003, he began teaching fifth grade at Washington Elementary School. He went on to get two Master’s degrees, one in School Leadership and another in Social Studies education.
In September, Chris Yonitch will return to work as a fifth-grade teacher at Redwood Elementary School.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me through this," said Yonitch. "I'm returning to teaching this September at Redwood School, and I'm excited. I finally get to put my life back in order."