Although the Commissioner of Education found that a teacher engaged in conduct unbecoming by driving a child to the teacher’s private residence in a private vehicle and rubbing lotion on his back, this conduct was not sufficient to support termination of the teacher because the teacher had permission from the parent to drive the child, he was the child’s basketball coach, and he was a District-appointed mentor despite the District knowing that he did not hold the proper certification to be a mentor.
The Board of Education of the City of Vineland (“Board”) brought tenure charges against Albert D. Porter (“Respondent”), a certified teacher employed by the District for approximately twenty-three years. The Board charged Respondent with a violation of Board Policy #3281, Inappropriate Staff Conduct, for “engag[ing] or seek[ing] to be in the presence of a pupil beyond the staff member’s professional responsibilities.”
The Board alleged that Respondent violated this policy because he drove a fifteen-year-old freshman to his personal residence and applied lotion, which he called a “blessed cream,” to the child’s back. Prior to these charges, Respondent was a well-respected member of the community. He was a teacher, a mentor to students, and head coach of the basketball team. He was both a mentor and a coach to child, A.R. A.R.’s mother gave Respondent permission to drive him home because she was often unavailable to do so. On Saturday, January 6, 2018 and Saturday, January 13, 2018, Respondent picked up A.R. from his house for practice and dropped him off after basketball. Respondent and A.R. would also text each other, and Respondent would drive A.R. home during the week when basketball ended at 6:00 p.m., even though the school provides a 6:00 p.m. activity bus. On January 17, 2018 and January 18, 2018, Respondent drove A.R. to his condominium. On both occasions, the pair discussed academics and Respondent applied a natural muscle relief lotion, which he called the “blessed cream,” to A.R.’s back because A.R. complained of back-pain. The next day, January 19, 2018, Respondent was placed on administrative leave.
The Commissioner found that the Board met its burden establishing that Respondent violated Board of Education Policy #3281, but that Respondent did not engage in an “inappropriate and improper relationship” with A.R. because he was A.R.’s mentor. The Board had entrusted Respondent with the responsibility of being a mentor to students, when he was not certified to be one. Nonetheless, the Commissioner still found that Respondent committed conduct unbecoming by driving the child to his personal residence and by applying lotion to the child’s back.
However, the Commissioner found that termination was not appropriate. The Commissioner made this determination on the grounds that Respondent was a mentor appointed by the Board, despite the fact that he did not have proper certification or training to be a mentor. Moreover, it is well-known in the District that coaches and teachers drove students in their private vehicles, often without prior notice to the administration. Further, the Board did not provide any transportation for student athletes after 6:00 p.m. Therefore, the Commissioner found that Respondent did violate Board Policy #3281. The Commissioner ordered that Respondent no longer be assigned as a mentor or work one-on-one with students. Respondent was placed on a one hundred and twenty (120) day suspension, and the permanent loss of one salary increment.