NEW BRUNSWICK – A former city special education teacher has filed a suit claiming she was fired after reporting that district had failed to provide special education students with necessary services, and had condoned verbal abuse of students.
Gina Petrozelli of Dunellen says she repeatedly reported and objected to the school board’s “unlawful and unethical practices regarding the education of students with disabilities,” according to the lawsuit filed last month in Superior Court.
“She was shocked,” Petrozelli’s lawyer, Steven Siegler, said of his client’s reaction to conditions in the classroom where she taught. Prior to working in New Brunswick, Petrozelli was a special education teacher in Dunellen for 11 years, and was dean of students for Dunellen High School, the attorney said.
William Healey, a lawyer representing the New Brunswick school board, said the district will file a legal response to the lawsuit in which the school district will deny all allegations.
Petrozelli was hired as a special education in October 2016 to teach four students in grades six through eight, and each of the students had learning and behavioral disabilities, the suit states.
Although she was told there were lesson and behavioral plans for the class, Petrozelli she she later discovered no plans existed, according to her suit. A paraprofessional in the classroom regularly would shout and yell profanities at the students, the former teacher alleges.
The classroom was filled with litter, the students lacked books, notebooks, folders and other materials, and the students were frequently disruptive and left the classroom whenever they wanted, Petrozelli alleges in the suit.
Two students, she claims, failed to receive speech therapy for months, even though it was required in their education plan.
In November and December 2016, Petrozelli stated her concerns about the paraprofessional to school psychologist and case manager Kevin Gigliotti. But there was no change and the paraprofessional continued to be confrontational and aggressive towards the students, the suit states.
Petrozelli also discussed concerns about the paraprofessional with Janene Rodriguez and Kevin Jardio, principal and vice principal, respectively, of McKinley Community School.
Rodriguez observed Petrozelli’s class on at least two occasions and criticized her teaching each time, saying Petrozelli failed to “teach what the district wants.” The teacher tried to explain she was following the education plans for each student, according to the lawsuit. It states that Rodriguez was unaware that the students had learning disabilities.
Eventually the paraprofessional was removed from the classroom, but never replaced, and conditions in the class further deteriorated, with students directly insulting her.
Along with the school board, Rodriguez, Jarido and Kathy Antonie-Smith, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel, are also named as defendants.
In May 2017, Rodriguez told Petrozelli that she would not be rehired for the following school year.
Petrozelli claims she was dismissed for stating her concerns about the treatment of the students and the failure of the school to follow the individual education plans (IEPs).