WARREN, NJ – An arbitrator has ruled that the Morris-Union Jointure Commission was justified in dismissing Jennifer Filo, a tenured teacher at its Developmental Learning Center for students with autism, because she engaged in an alleged pattern of corporal punishment.
Timothy Smith, Filo's attorney, alleged that the commission tampered with witnesses and failed to turn over evidence, however, arbitrator Robert Simmelkjaer agreed with the commission that Filo's dismissal is "the only appropriate remedy."
"The gravity of her misconduct, her use of excessive force and the absence of extenuating circumstances render her unfit to teach," Simmelkjaer wrote in a 44-page decision following hearings in February.
Smith said that no physical evidence had been introduced and argued that Filo had been investigated and cleared by police and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Smith emphasized that no parent had complained about Filo and one parent had even testified in support of Filo.
Many of the Morris-Union Jointure Commission's students are on the more severe end of the autism spectrum. Filo was a teacher during the summer program at the Warren location of the school from June to August 2014 with eight students in her class and all but two being non-verbal, according to Simmelkjaer's decision. There were also four teacher assistants assigned to the class.
Three of the four assistant teachers testified against Filo, who denied all the allegations.
During the rest of the school year Filo was a teacher at the New Providence location.
The charges against Filo detail occasions when she allegedly intentionally mimicked some students autistic behaviors, asked them if they were stupid, withheld breakfast from students, screamed at students on a daily basis, bent back students' fingers, hit a student with a wooden clipboard, and encouraged students to hit back when they became aggressive toward each other.
Simmelkjaer concluded that "although there is case law that recognizes the difficult task a teacher must perform in managing students with disabilities," Filo's training had prepared her to not "resort to physical force."
In the report, as Superintendent Janet L. Parmalee put it, " We cannot guarantee what our students learn or how they progress academically with us... I have to guarantee our staff does not purposely hurt our kids. I have to guarantee that."
Smith has not yet filed a challenge to vacate the arbitrator's decision.
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