Ruling Blocks Teacher's Effort at Reinstatement

, New York Law Journal

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ALBANY - The Dean of discipline at a gang-plagued Brooklyn public middle school who has been fighting for his job after putting one student in a headlock and throwing another against a wall has hit another roadblock in his lengthy effort to return to the teaching profession.

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi (See Profile), in a decision Dec. 10, upheld the state Education Department's refusal to extend Peter Principe's provisional teaching certificate, effectively barring Principe from the profession despite another judge's ruling reinstating him.

Principe was involved in two corporal punishment incidents in 2007, one involving an 11-year-old student and the other a 13-year-old student, that led to his termination in 2009. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger (See Profile) found the penalty excessive, as did the Appellate Division, First Department (NYLJ, April 6, 2012) and the Court of Appeals.

After the appeals were exhausted, a second hearing officer in January 2013 imposed an 18-month suspension on Principe. Since he had been out of work since November 2009, the period of suspension had already been served and, under the hearing officer's decision, he is entitled to some 20 months of back pay and immediate reinstatement.

However, Principe was not reinstated because his provisional teaching certificate had expired.

The Department of Education maintained that Principe's five-year provisional certificate had expired on Jan. 31, 2009, while the dean was embroiled in the disciplinary proceeding. Since 8 NYCRR §80-1.6 permits only three consecutive years of certificate extensions, the Education Department reasoned that Principe's final extension would have expired on Jan. 31, 2012.

Teresi in Principe v. Department of Education, Index No. 3512-13, yielded to the Education De- partment's interpretation.

"While this refusal to extend now prohibits petitioner from returning to his prior teaching position with his provisional certificate, despite his successful challenge to his termination, neither respondents' interpretation of the regulations nor [the Education Department's] denial letter are irrational, arbitrary or capricious," Teresi wrote.

Principe's attorney, Stuart Lichten of Lichten & Bright in Manhattan, said he will appeal Teresi's ruling.

The Education Department was represented by assistant attorney general C. Harris Dague.

Moral Character Case

In an unrelated matter involving the Education Department, an appellate panel in Albany upheld the ouster of a high school teacher for lacking moral character.

Maher v. King, 516417, involved a teacher in the Hamilton Central School District who repeatedly engaged in inadvisable contact with male students.

For instance, records show that Courtney Maher exchanged more than 1,800 text messages with one boy during the 2007-08 school year, including 268 sent between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. More messages were exchanged in June and July 2008 after the student's mother wanted the communications to cease.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice William McCarthy (See Profile) said that while the content of the messages is unknown and Maher testified that none of the communication was inappropriate, the "sheer volume of messages between a student and teacher raised red flags."

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