NEWARK — A city elementary school teacher has won back her job after an arbitrator ruled that school officials botched an investigation into sex games that 6- and 7-year-old students claimed they had played at school.
Lydia Wilson was suspended from Quitman Street Community School two years ago after six of her students reported participating or witnessing what they called the “Nasty Game,” the “Nasty Club” or the “Kissing Game.”
According to the first-grade students, they had to expose their genitals to each other to get into the “club.” The game involved touching each other’s genitals with their hands and mouths. The students claimed this happened during lunch, at recess and under the tables of their classroom while their teacher was present.
Wilson had 21 students in her class and had 12 years of experience teaching.
The students revealed their antics during a “circle time” discussion with a substitute teacher, who reported what they had said to school administrators. The administrators then notified a school social worker and the state Office of Institutional Abuse.
The students did not testify in the arbitration hearing that is part of the teacher’s due process rights under the state TEACHNJ tenure law.
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Although the social worker testified what the children had told her, she could not characterized her questioning of the students as an investigation, but as an “‘asking’ of what happened.”
In the arbitration hearing, an expert in child sexualized behavior testified on the teacher’s behalf, explaining that the interviews of the children seemed “inappropriate” because the questions were not non-suggestive and non-leading — lessons learned in the wake of the child-abuse investigations that were rampant in the 1980s.
Children, the expert testified, “are very vulnerable to being pushed in one direction or another in questioning, because most children by this age when they come into a situation where someone’s questioning them about sexual behavior, feel like they are being blamed.”
The state Office of Institutional Abuse, meanwhile, could not “conclusively determine that Ms. Wilson, who was in charge of the class, had knowledge of these incidents.”
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But district officials believed what the students had said was enough evidence to terminate the teacher, who should have paid closer attention to her students.
In his February decision, arbitrator Timothy J. Brown disagreed, suggesting that some of the children’s supposed recollections about what happened could have been corrupted by the questioning, and that they could have picked up their stories from the “circle time” discussion with the substitute teacher.
The arbitrator ordered the teacher back to her position with full back pay and an expungement of the suspension from her record.