UPDATE: Administrative Law Judge Nanci Stokes said she'll tell the state commissioner of education that the Wyckoff Board of Education doesn't have to reinstate Eisenhower Middle School Principal Christopher Iasiello while it continues an investigation.
Stokes said Iasiello's appeal to immediately be reinstated doesn't "clearly and convicingly" prove that he's suffering irreparable harm, that there's a "reasonable probability of ultimate success" or that he'll endure greater harm than the Board of Education. It also doesn't establish any legal right to his claim, she found.
The principal's suspension "is with pay, and his continued suspension will not cause irreparable harm," Stokes ruled. "The district did not violate Iasiello's tenure rights."
If the commissioner were to grant Iasiello's request, "the board will be forced to reinstate an employee accused of misconduct before completing the investigation of that misconduct," she added.
His "request for emergent relief does not meet requirements ... and must be denied," the judge found.
New Jersey Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan has 45 days to act on the judge's recommendation or it becomes final.
ORIGINAL STORY: The suspension of a Wyckoff middle school principal has come into sharper focus with the public disclosure of district officials’ allegations that he participated in a "sexting" investigation involving his daughter and other students.
Eisenhower Middle School Principal Christopher Iasiello might have avoided what to this point has been a three-month battle had he cooperated with Wyckoff Schools Supt. Kerry L. Postma, an attorney for the district contended.
Postma suspended Iasiello on Jan. 15, citing “serious allegations concerning [his] failure to properly follow the Board’s policies and procedures to investigate a report of a sexting incident that occurred on or about October 16, 2020."
Iasiello contends that incident involved his special needs daughter, who attends Eisenhower, being subjected to “embarrassment and humiliation" when four male classmates shared a video of her on social media that was recorded during a Facetime chat.
Because the HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) incident involved his daughter, the principal said, he “promptly recused himself,” turned the matter over to Assistant Eisenhower School Principal Christopher Giordano and “played no role in the investigation.”
He also contacted her guidance counselor and “expressed concern about his daughter’s physical and mental well-being," his appeal says.
The district’s attorney, Stephen R. Fogarty, defended the suspension.
"There is no question the superintendent has acted appropriately," he told Administrative Law Judge Nanci Stokes during a Zoom hearing on Tuesday.
Giordano also was suspended but was reinstated on March 17.
Iasiello, meanwhile, has watched a “distinguished career in education crumble before his eyes,” attorney Stephen Edelstein wrote in the appeal to Angelica Allen-McMillan, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education.
Allen-McMillan will determine the principal's fate based on a recommendation from Stokes, the administrative law judge.
Iasiello has run the Eisenhower School since July 2012 and before that, was assistant principal of the school for nearly two years. His district evaluations have been “uniformly excellent,” wrote Edelstein of the Weiner Law Group.
Then came the suspensions.
District officials said legal liability prevented making any announcements or providing explanations about what were personnel decisions,.
It left parents of Eisenhower’s 670 or so students -- as well as teachers, staff and the kids themselves -- wondering why their principal and his second-in-command had suddenly “vanished.”
Many in the northwest Bergen County town clicked into a February Zoom meeting during which the Wyckoff Board of Education approved the appointment of an acting principal at Eisenhower.
Little else was said.
"The board really has no comment at this time for reasons of privacy and confidentiality,” Board President Robert Francin explained.
New information emerged in Iasiello’s appeal to the commissioner.
In her Jan. 15 suspension letter to Iasiello, Postma demanded the return of a district laptop along with the principal’s keys and the key fob to her office.
The superintendent also reminded Iasiello of his “legal duty” not to destroy any documentation – “both electronic and hard copy” – that he “received or forwarded to any person with regard to the sexting incident.”
She told Iasiello that the suspension was “pending a further investigation and further Board action…[which] shall determine what further action is appropriate,” the appeal letter says.
Fogarty contended that the principal entered Postma’s office three days later, “offered up his keys, told her he was recording anything she had to say” and ended the meeting by saying he wouldn’t answer any questions without his lawyer."
The response only hurt his cause, Fogarty contended.
"I suspect if your client had cooperated with Dr. Postma, as he is required to do, his suspension may well have been avoided," he wrote in an email to Weiner Law Group attorney Paul C. Kalac.
Fogarty said Iasiello committed several violations, including not notifying Postma, police or the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency of the incident involving his daughter.
He later told Kalac that Giordano spoke to the boys involved but not their parents, that no interviews notes were kept and that there were no findings.
Claims by Iasiello that the boys had sexually harassed the girl “appear not to have been addressed," Fogarty wrote in a Feb. 8 email to Kalac.
Rather, he said, he saw an attempt to “contain everything,” so that it “almost appears as if the incident had not happened."
That same day (Feb. 8), the board appointed Grace White as acting principal at Eisenhower.
Fogarty emailed Kalac again on Feb. 26: “When I spoke with you last I was quite clear that the [s]uperintendent had not yet determined what further action she would be recommending to the Board. The status of this matter has not changed.”
That same day, the district removed Iasiello’s name from its website.
Although Giordano was reinstated to his job as assistant principal more than a month ago, “there was zero mention” of Iasiello during that meeting, the appeal says.
His career “continues to twist in the wind," the appeal contends.
District officials have "violated the district’s own policy, as well as New Jersey statutes and code and [Iasiello’s] rights of due process, and continue to cause [him] ongoing harm, for which immediate relief is required,” the appeal to the commissioner says.
That specifically would be:
- Iasiello's immediate reinstatement to his job;
- restoring his name to “all [d]istrict communications and website to indicate that he is the [p]rincipal of the Eisenhower Middle School (and);
- awarding him lawyer’s fees and other costs, as well as “such other relief as may be just and proper.”
A separate claim that will pursue compensation for damages was contained in a March 16 notice of intent to sue the district, court papers show.
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