Almost a year after two parents filed charges against her for harassment and simple assault of their children, Brenda Ruth, a teacher’s aide in the Egg Harbor City School District was found not guilty on both charges Monday.
After hearing testimony from students, the classroom teacher and the school principal, Egg Harbor City Municipal Court Judge William Cappuccio said in his ruling after the first case that he believed incidents may have occurred, but that he is constrained by the requirements of criminal law where the burden of proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the diametrically opposed testimony of the two sides made that impossible.
The second case was heard separately Monday afternoon.
Ruth, who worked in the district for nine years, has been on paid administrative leave since April 20, 2012, when the charges were filed on behalf of the students, who were identified by their initials J.V. and J.H.
Jerome Davis, the father of one student, said he had filed the simple assault charge to make sure if Ruth were found guilty she could no longer work in a school. The cases came to light following the state’s tougher new bullying law, which has put increased attention on the behavior of both students and staff.
Ruth could now be reinstated in her job or could still face internal disciplinary action by the school district.
School district solicitor Ronald Sahli, who attended the hearing representing Charles Spragg School Principal Adrienne Shulby, said he would take Monday’s rulings back to the superintendent for review. He said Ruth’s status in the district had been pending resolution of the criminal cases.
“The standards are different,” Sahli said of district proceedings.
The court hearings were delayed multiple times as both sides tried to get access to school videotapes of the time of the alleged incidents. Shulby testified in the first case that while their videos are not the best quality, she had reviewed the tapes of the time and place of the alleged incidents, and found nothing.
She said a third parent had also complained to her about Ruth.
Shulby said she interviewed the other students in the class who said that Ruth had used profanities and called students stupid and retarded. The students are in a special education class for children with disabilities. Shulby said that after the interviews she reassigned Ruth to another class.
The state Department of Children and Families also investigated, but found allegations of physical abuse to be unfounded, according to a letter submitted at the hearing.
Ruth’s attoney, Ned Rogovoy, who represents a lot of teachers through their union, the New Jersey Education Association, said most cases don’t typically take as long, but can be difficult to prove without witnesses or videotaped evidence.
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