A Vineland teacher caught running naked through an apartment complex on a dare is the first tenure case resolved under a new law designed to reduce the time it takes for such cases.
In the past, tenure cases had dragged on for a year or more.
Mark C. Bringhurst did lose his job, but representatives of both the state teacher’s union and the school boards association said the new procedure did protect his right of due process while resolving the case in a timely manner. It took less than four months from the time charges were filed with the state.
Bringhurst was a fifth-grade teacher at the Winslow School in Vineland for about eight years, and was its Teacher of the Year for 2011-12.
He was arrested on March 21 by Berlin Township police in Camden County and charged with lewdness after running naked through the Greenway Apartments parking lot. According to the police report cited in the case, Bringhurst said it was the second time he had done so, both times on a dare, but he did not expect anyone to see him.
The case was heard in municipal court, and in July the charges were amended to “acting in an improper manner” to which Bringhurst pleaded guilty.
The Vineland school district on June 27 notified Bringhurst that tenure charges would be brought before the local board of education. The board approved the charges in Aug. 8 and on Aug. 21 the district filed them with the state education commissioner.
The matter was referred to arbitrator Robert C. Gifford Sept. 13, and a hearing was held in Vineland on Oct. 18, with written briefs filed by Oct. 31.
In his decision, which was posted on the Department of Education web site Dec. 5, Gifford said Bringhurst exercised very poor judgment on more than one occasion, and his lack of judgement is not diminished by the fact that the conduct occurred outside of school.
“The respondent’s actions are simply not consistent with the conduct that a fifth-grade elementary teacher must display, whether in or out of the classroom,” Gifford wrote. He concluded that the penalty of dismissal was justifiable and reasonable.
The arbitrator’s decision does not affect Bringhurst’s teaching license or his ability to teach in another district. The decision to revoke his license would be made separately by the state Board of Examiners.
Bringhurst’s attorney, Robert Bowman, said Wednesday he could not comment on the decision itself since he had not yet reviewed it with his client. But he said he thought the arbitration process was “fair and expeditious.”
“It brought resolution in a timely manner,” he said.
Vineland school district solicitor Robert DeSanto could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
State Department of Education officials said the case was the first to be handled under the new arbitration system, and there are currently 31 additional active tenure cases statewide.
The binding arbitration system is part of the new state TEACHNJ tenure reform law and was included to make it easier for school districts to terminate tenured teachers.
Prior contested tenure cases had gone through the administrative court system and had often taken a year to resolve. The New Jersey Education Association proposed an arbitration system to make sure tenured teachers could not be arbitrarily fired and would still have the right of due process. Under the new law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Aug. 6, a hearing must be held within 45 days of a contested tenure case being assigned.
Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association said Wednesday they supported the arbitration process as a way to save time and money.
NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said they are watching the new law’s implementation as cases go through the arbitration system.
“So far it seems that it is working as it is supposed to,” he said. “But it is too early to make a final judgment.”
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