UNION COUNTY – About 40 students at Union County Vocational-Technical High School in Scotch Plains have been diverted from their regular program of study following the firing of the school’s electrical engineering teacher after a classroom dispute with a student.
After families rallied in front of the school this week, the school’s principal, Lisa Tauscher, told parents the students will be participating in other programs while the district works to hire another electrical teacher.
“It is our hope to hire a replacement in the near future,” Tauscher wrote in the letter. “However, identifying a qualified candidate that meets both the vocational and teaching criteria required by the New Jersey Department of Education has and continues to be an ongoing challenge.”
In the meantime, families are rallying around the teacher, Daniel Burns.
Burns, 69, confirmed that he was suspended following the Jan. 28 incident and that he was fired on Friday. He declined to comment further, citing the potential for litigation.
Messages to Tauscher and the school district's superintendent, Gwen Ryan, seeking further comment were not returned Wednesday.
Students, who witnessed the incident, are defending the teacher. Burns had been teaching in the district since 2017, public records show.
Ryan Lusk, a 17-year-old junior from Scotch Plains who witnessed the incident, said Burns reported the confrontation to the school’s principal following the incident with the unidentified student, who he had repeatedly instructed to return to his work.
“Mr. Burns flipped out a little bit and kind of nudged him,” Lusk said. “He didn’t push him. He didn’t punch him. He kind of nudged him. He said ‘six [expletive] months I’ve been working with you. I’ve been patient. I’ve been helping you.’”
Joseph Touris, 17, of Scotch Plains, provided a similar account of the altercation.
“He just pushed him a little bit,” Touris said. “He tried to explain.” The offending student’s behavior had been increasingly antagonistic over the past months, with the student shooting wire caps out of a pipe while in the classroom, he said.
“He blows them out like it’s a blow gun,” Touris said. “They come in all different sizes, but they hurt.”
A video obtained by TAPinto shows students walking through the school’s hallways this week and chanting to “Bring Back Burns. Bring Back Burns.”
Story continues after video.
Alan Dente, 20, of Westfield, attends one of Burns’ classes and said that since his teacher left last month, staff members give his class workbooks to fill out, instead of the hands-on learning that previously took place.
The result is that students play card games in the classroom to pass the time, Dente said.
When the students learned Monday that Burns would not be coming back, he said, they took to protesting in the hallways.
“We all decided to chant, and we’re probably not going to stop,” Dente said.
Parents of the impacted students at the magnet school, which draws from across Union County, have been angered by what they say is a lack of communication from the school district about the incident and the school’s decision.
“For two weeks, we hear crickets from the administration there, and now this is their solution,” said Westfield resident Sally Susan Heyder, whose son is among those students told to study for another vocation. “It’s totally unacceptable.”
Although the students have been given the option to pick other vocations, some may simply choose to return to their hometown high schools if the options they have do not include that which they came to the vocational school to study, Heyder said.
“For them to say your not happy with what we’re offering. You can just go back to your high school. What does say about the integrity of the school?” she asked. “What does this say about the integrity of the program?”