NORTHFIELD — Testimony will continue at a to-be-determined date in the case of a Linwood teacher accused of simple assault of a student last winter.
The trial of Belhaven Middle School music teacher Kimberley Peschi began Friday afternoon at Northfield Municipal Court with witness testimony from teachers and students who were there on the date of the alleged assault.
Peschi pleaded not guilty to simple assault and neglect in April in relation to the Feb. 9 incident in the school cafeteria in which a sixth-grade student fell to the ground after Peschi’s foot came in contact with his chair.
The trial for Peschi is being held in municipal court under Judge Timothy Maguire with the state represented by Atlantic County Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy. Attorney Robert Agre represents Peschi.
Testimony on the first day of trial Friday centered on the events of the afternoon. Video surveillance from the cafeteria was played on a laptop for the judge, both attorneys and all the witnesses, but it was not viewable by others in the courtroom.
Levy told the judge the video clearly shows Peschi “very purposefully” lifted her leg and pushed her foot down on the back of the student’s chair, knocking him to the ground, where he hit his head. The student had been leaning back in his chair prior to the incident, according to eyewitness accounts.
“You’ll see absolutely no remorse, regret,” Levy said.
The defense’s cross examination focused mainly on the duties of a school lunch monitor to take corrective action against improper behavior in the cafeteria. Agre contended it is unclear from the video if Peschi was purposefully trying to knock down the student or if she was trying to correct his behavior.
“(The student) was leaning back in his chair to the point his own safety was compromised,” Agre told the judge.
Witness Lauren Muffley, who was employed by the district last winter and spring as a long-term substitute guidance counselor, testified she witnessed Peschi knock the student over and leave the cafeteria without helping him. She said that after the incident, she went over to comfort the student and took him out of the cafeteria for counseling.
According to Muffley, she and Peschi were in charge of the seventh-grade side of the cafeteria, while another teacher was watching the sixth-graders.
Having her watch the video, Agre asked Muffley about the whereabouts of Peschi and the third lunchroom monitor, teacher Ashley Popa, during the incident. Muffley agreed with Agre that Popa was not watching the student in question at the time.
Agre also pointed out that, in the video, Peschi’s actions came after another student had already corrected the student in question’s manner of sitting by pushing his chair forward onto all four legs.
Muffley said she would have handled the situation differently than Peschi.
“I would speak to the student,” she said.
Popa, who also testified Friday, said she was two feet away from the student when the incident occurred but had not seen the student leaning back in his chair prior to that. She said Peschi never approached her about the child’s behavior and didn’t help him after he fell.
“I remember her saying something along the lines of ‘That’s why we don’t lean back,’” said Popa, who now works at the Egg Harbor City Community School.
In addition to the teachers, two now-seventh grade students at Belhaven testified Friday with one student stating that Peschi “stomped” on the back of his friend’s chair “and made him fall.”
Testimony ended after the second student testified, and the trial is expected to resume in the new year with more witnesses from the prosecution. Agre indicated Friday there were several character witnesses to testify on Peschi’s behalf.