Errol Goodwater, a tenured teacher in the New Jersey city of Camden, has been fired for hitting a 13-year-old special education student with a laptop computer power cord in November of 2007. The student suffered a raised welt on his back that was still present the day after, says the Courier-Post. New Jersey’s acting Education Commissioner, Christopher Cerf, said that a video shot by a school camera simply contradicted Goldwater’s claims that he had hit the child “accidentally” and acted in self-defense.
Goodwater’s tenure trial began last year, in May 2011, after he had been indicted, tried and acquitted on criminal charges related to his striking the student. He was suspended with pay shortly after the incident occurred. His attorney, J. Michael Farrell, said that his client plans to appeal as the video did not show “the hazards that Goodwater regularly faced working alone in his classroom, including previous incidents with the 13-year-old.” Farrell pointed out that the student was “bigger” than Goodwater and that, at the time, the teacher “had reason to believe he was in danger of serious bodily injury.”
An administrative judge ruled that Goodwater’s striking the student was a “single, isolated incident in an otherwise unblemished career” and “accidental”; he said that Goodwater had displayed “an immediate overreaction to a perceived threat.” But in a hearing with an administrative judge, Goodwater had testified that his “kids are murderers, criminals and car thieves,” words that suggest he viewed his students extremely negatively. Not only did he not bring the child who he had struck to the school nurse but his behavior towards his students was otherwise inappropriate, including telling students to “sit down and shut up.”
The school board of Camden had requested that Goldwater be dismissed; Goodwater himself had “argued against punishment,” including the forfeiture of any pay. Cerf’s decision to outright fire Goodwater rejected a December decision by the administrative judge to suspend him for four years without pay, retroactive to his initial suspension in 2007.
Using physical violence towards students was simply inappropriate and uncalled for. The city of Camden, located in southern New Jersey across from Philadelphia, has long had numerous urban problems; its school system has been taken over by the state. It’s certainly likely that Goodwater and other teachers, and other teachers of special education students, did not have sufficient supports in their classrooms, in terms of aids, materials and much else.
None of this exonerates Goodwater’s hitting the special education student with a power cord. The incident is a chilling reminder of how inadequate, how deeply inappropriately, special education services are for too many students today.
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