Updated at 10:01 p.m. Jan. 8
WESTFIELD, NJ — The Board of Education formalized the dismissal of an elementary school teacher, the result of a state arbitrator’s decision stating the district is justified in letting him go after he made repeated comments referencing his gun ownership in ways that threatened other staff members.
Frank Fuzy III, who taught at Tamaques School for 22 years, had previously been suspended as a result of what Superintendent Margaret Dolan at Tuesday’s board meeting called “a threatening comment.”
“Two years ago, I was made aware of a threatening comment made by one of the teachers in this district,” Dolan said. “I immediately began an investigation and based on the findings, I suspended the teacher with the approval of the Board of Education.”
On Tuesday, the board voted 8-0 to terminate Fuzy’s employment. Board member Tara Oporto was not present for the meeting. District labor attorney Derlys Gutierrez said authorities began the investigation in January 2018 at which time the district suspended Fuzy. The district filed tenure charges against Fuzy that December, Gutierrez said.
“The superintendent filed the tenure charges because she was told by another employee that the teacher had called her and had made statements that could be seen as threatening against another employee,” Gutierrez said. “Not against any children, but against another employee.”
A Dec. 16 decision from state Department of Education arbitrator Joyce M. Klein upholds three of six tenure charges lodged by the district, including accusations Fuzy threw sticky notes at a student and separately made threatening comments about his stature and his ownership of firearms.
According to the arbitrator’s ruling, Fuzy admits telling another staff member multiple times: “I’m 5-10. I’m 210 pounds. I do own firearms and many people take that the wrong way.”
Following his suspension, Fuzy filed a federal lawsuit against the board and several district employees. In the lawsuit, Fuzy claims school district employees made false and defamatory statements against him; discriminated against him on the basis of his age and gender; and retaliated against him as a result of his gun ownership. A scheduling conference in that case is set for Feb. 5 in federal court in Newark.
The legal proceedings pertaining to Fuzy’s tenure charges, Gutierrez said, began in July 2019 and continued through September during which several district employees testified.
“I’m very grateful to those employees who stood up for what’s right and testified in this case,” Gutierrez said. “The board and the superintendent obviously feel that the arbitrator made the right decision.”
Local law enforcement, Gutierrez said, has been kept informed of any developments in the case.
“Dr. Dolan kept law enforcement updated on all developments of the case as the case was proceeding,” Gutierrez said. “At all times, Dr. Dolan has kept the safety of students and staff in mind by communicating frequently with law enforcement.”
Dolan said the district remains committed to ensuring safety for students and staff.
“The board of education, the police, the principal, and I have not only been concerned about this for two years, but we have continuously taken steps to address this concern, and we will continue to do so,” Dolan said. “Please know that we will continue to safeguard everyone, students and staff, throughout this district.”