WESTFIELD, NJ — A state arbitrator has ruled the Westfield School District is justified in firing a tenured teacher accused of making angry statements about his gun ownership, something the district claims created an atmosphere of fear at Tamaques Elementary School.
The decision from state Department of Education arbitrator Joyce M. Klein upholds three of six tenure charges lodged by the district, including accusations that the former teacher, Frank Fuzy III, threw sticky notes at a student and separately made threatening comments about his stature and his ownership of firearms.
“Mr. Fuzy has not been fully successful at controlling his temper with students, teachers and other staff,” Klein writes in her decision issued Monday. “As a result, Mr. Fuzy’s conduct has led to calling students ‘stupid,’ inappropriately reducing students to tears; and most importantly discussing his height, weight and guns in a threatening manner in a conversation where he was stressed and angry.”
Fuzy, in response to the tenure charges, lodged a federal lawsuit against the Board of Education in which he claims school district employees have 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.
“Defendants have shamelessly and recklessly used notorious mass shootings to whip up anti-gun owner animus against plaintiff,” the complaint in Fuzy’s lawsuit claims. “This impermissible animus has been a substantial motivating factor in the wrongful treatment of plaintiff.”
Fuzy claims that the school district’s actions “are in violation of and in retaliation for” exercising his “right to bear arms.”
The case was first reported by the Bridgewater Courier News Friday.
The arbitrator’s ruling on the tenure charges states that district’s superintendent, Margaret Dolan, became aware of social media postings Fuzy made about his gun ownership and did not discuss such with him, recognizing his right to make such statements.
“Dr. Dolan acknowledged that Mr. Fuzy had previously posted statements and pictures about guns on social media and there was no reason to discuss these postings with him because it was his right to make such postings about his hobby regarding guns,” Klein says.
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At the heart of the tenure charges, she says, are that “Mr. Fuzy, through his comments and actions has created an atmosphere where ‘other staff members are intimidated and fearful of imminent harm.’”
The ruling states that Fuzy acknowledges having made the following statement: “I am 5-10. I’m 210 pounds. I do own firearms and many people take that the wrong way.”
A phone message left at Fuzy’s home in Colonia, located in Middlesex County, was not returned Friday afternoon. Requests for comment from his attorney also were not returned.
A spokeswoman for the school district declined to comment.
“It is district policy to refrain from comments regarding personnel and legal matters,” said the spokeswoman, Mary Ann McGann.
Fuzy, who in 2013 was named the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s Teacher of the Year for his work at Tamaques School, claims in his lawsuit that the district discriminated against because he is a man and over the age of 40.
“Plaintiff was only the second male teacher ever hired in Westfield,” the suit claims.
“Rather than being dependable, he was called stubborn; rather than being known as strong, he was described as threatening and overbearing; rather than being called male, he was called toxic,” Fuzy’s complaint states.
The state arbitrator’s decision, however, quotes the district’s superintendent on her reasons for filing the tenure charges.
“It became very, very apparent in the conversations with staff members both paraprofessionals and teachers that there were a number of teachers who felt unsafe in Tamaques School specifically because of Mr. Fuzy,” Dolan says. “They went — some of them went out of their way not to interact with him. Others made sure they did their work at home so they weren’t in the building outside of school hours.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh