NORTHFIELD — A Linwood music teacher was found guilty of simple assault of a student Wednesday and ordered to pay about $200 in fines and fees, but the forfeiture of her teaching license is still being deliberated.
Kimberley Peschi, 41, of Galloway Township, a music teacher at the Belhaven School in Linwood, was found guilty of kicking a chair as a sixth-grade student was leaning back in it, causing him to fall and hit his head on the cafeteria floor Feb. 9, 2017.
The charges were being pursued by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, but heard before Northfield Municipal Judge Timothy P. Maguire in a trial that began in December. Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy represented the state, and Robert Agre of Haddonfield represents Peschi.
Maguire said he will make a determination of the forfeiture of Peschi’s teaching license — a specific request by Levy — after both attorneys submit briefs by July 15.
Agre had no comment on Wednesday’s ruling, but did say Peschi plans on appealing.
After court, the victim’s mother, Michele Tourigian, said she and her son were very re-lieved the trial was over.
“It’s been a long process,” Tourigian said.
Tourigian had previously called for Peschi’s teaching license to be revoked. In April 2017, the Linwood Board of Education filed tenure charges against Peschi. She is currently suspended without pay from the district. Her salary at the time of her suspension was not available.
During the hearing, several witnesses testified, including Peschi and the student, identified as M.M. by the court, the school principal and teachers. Six character witnesses testified on behalf of Peschi.
Maguire said he watched each of the witnesses closely as they testified and found all but Peschi credible, as her testimony directly contradicted the video evidence.
“There is no question that M.M. leaning back was not safe,” Maguire said. “Ms. Peschi or any other teacher would certainly have the authority to correct the behavior that occurred that day by M.M. However, what is shown on (the video) clearly goes beyond appropriate corrective behavior.”
Maguire said Wednesday he knows the verdict will have a serious impact on Peschi and said he believes her actions that day were not her normal course of conduct.
Although several people gave testimony during the trial, Maguire said the most compelling evidence was that of the surveillance footage from the cafeteria.
“There’s an adage that states a picture’s worth a thousand words,” Maguire said. “The adage is equally true in this case.”