LINWOOD — School officials say they are moving forward with tenure charges against a middle school music teacher recently acquitted of assaulting a student.
The Linwood Board of Education filed tenure charges with the state Department of Education against Kimberley Peschi in 2017 after she was charged with simple assault for allegedly knocking a student purposefully out of his chair during lunch, causing him to hit his head on the floor.
Peschi did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday, and her attorney, Robert Agre, could not be reached by phone.
Linwood Superintendent Brian Pruitt said the school board is moving forward with the tenure charges despite Peschi’s acquittal.
“The board will work to see those charges through to completion and will continue its action to remove Ms. Peschi from her position with the Board (of Education),” Pruitt said in a statement to The Press.
After a district files tenure charges, a state-appointed arbitrator reviews evidence in a process similar to a trial. The arbitrator can decide a tenured teacher should be removed, but it can also result in the teacher’s reinstatement and back pay.
Pruitt said the release last week of a video of the incident by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office through an Open Public Records Act request does not change the position of the Linwood school board.
“As this matter is in litigation, the board cannot comment any further,” Pruitt said.
That surveillance video played an important role in Peschi’s trial and appeal. Northfield Municipal Judge Timothy Maguire said it was the pivotal piece of evidence to finding Peschi guilty in May 2018.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Maguire said at the time.
Conversely, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge John Rauh said the surveillance footage of the incident is grainy and has a blur. Based on the quality of the video, Peschi’s testimony that she was trying to right the chair was “plausible,” he said.
Michele Tourigian, the mother of the now-eighth-grade student, said she was “disgusted and hurt” by Rauh’s decision.
“After viewing this video, it is clear that Judge John Rauh did a disservice to the children of Linwood as this video clearly shows the intentions of Ms. Peschi without a shadow of a doubt. It is difficult as a mother and a teacher of 25 years to watch, but I am glad that the public has a chance to see what took place,” said Tourigan, who works as a teacher in another district.
Peschi began working at Belhaven Middle School in 1999. She was suspended after charges were filed in February 2017 and placed on an unpaid suspension in April of that year following the tenure charges. It is unclear when a decision on the charges will be released.