PATERSON, NJ – The 2011 firing of a teacher at School 21 who called her first-grade students “future criminals” on her Facebook page was upheld by a state appeals court in a ruling announced on Friday.
The panel in its 12-page ruling upheld previous decisions by the state education commissioner and an administrative law judge that said officials acted properly in dismissing Jennifer O’Brien, who had been a Paterson educator for 13 years.
The teacher’s remarks, including comparing herself to a warden, prompted outrage in the community and became national news in a story first reported on PatersonPress.com.
Paterson’s state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans said he was pleased with the appellate court’s decision.
“On behalf of the District, I would like to acknowledge the school’s principal and staff (from that time) for their support and assistance,’’ Evans said in a statement issued by Paterson Public Schools. “I would also like to thank Reverend Kenneth Clayton for his significant testimony and his powerful community leadership when these events initially occurred.’’
Clayton is the president of the Greater Paterson chapter of the NAACP.
O’Brien had argued in her court papers that the termination violated her First Amendment rights to free speech. She also said the comments stemmed from a bad day and should not outweigh the first her teaching career during which she had a spotless record.
Moreover, O’Brien said in court papers that one student had struck her a week before her Facebook posting and others had stolen from her. Those incidents, she said in legal filings, had not been adequately handled through the district’s discipline system.
Ina previous ruling, the administrative law judge had found that O’Brien’s Facebook comments violated her duty as a teacher to create a safe and nurturing environment for her students. The judge also said O’Brien’s ongoing insistence that her conduct was not inappropriate demonstrated why she should not be allowed back in a Paterson classroom.