A state-appointed arbitrator has fired suspended school administrator Helen Tobia for what he called her “outrageous disregard” for state and federal laws governing special-education placements, Shannon Mullen reports for the ASBURY PARK PRESS.
Those laws give child study teams the authority to decide where a disabled child’s special needs can best be accommodated, following a detailed evaluation and consultation with the child’s parents. Arbitrator Michael J. Pecklers claims that as Lakewood’s supervisor of pupil personnel services, Tobia told the child study team members what to do.
In many cases, Tobia was actually very helpful to families with special needs children, helping place them in schools that could service them properly, but Pecklers claimed that Tobia was too understanding of frum families and helped place them in well-run private specialized schools, rather than special-education programs within the public schools.
Whether Tobia was an asset or a genuine problem in the district depends on who you speak to, but Pecklers, in firing her, accuses her of perjury and willfully violating various state and federal special educations regulations.
Tobia, a 21-year veteran of the district, received a salary of $121,696, according to state records.
In court documents, Mullen reports, Tobia denied any wrongdoing. She argued that she was forced to make difficult decisions that other district officials were afraid to make..
“Any suggestion that Ms. Tobia was somehow ‘set-up as the fall guy’ by the inaction of her colleagues is not supported by the evidentiary record, as it is abundantly clear to me that Respondent (Tobia) was at all times, ‘driving the bus,’” Pecklers said in his decision.
The state monitor overseeing the district, Michael Azzara, filed formal tenure charges against Tobia in August with the support of the Board of Education. Tobia was suspended without pay pending a hearing, Mullen reports.