When He Was a Priest, This N.J. Teacher Impregnated a 16-year-old. No, You Can’t Fire Him, School District Is Told.
By Kelly Heyboer
May 1, 2019
A veteran Burlington County teacher who had a baby with a 16-year-old girl while he was a Catholic priest nearly 30 years ago should not lose his job because of his past, a state arbitrator told the school district.
Cinnaminson school officials brought up tenure charges against middle school teacher Joseph DeShan earlier this year after parents learned about his history as a priest in the diocese in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
DeShan left the priesthood in 1994, four years after he impregnated a teenage girl in a church youth group he had allegedly been sexually abusing since she was 14, according to news reports in Connecticut newspapers after the relationship was revealed in 2002.
By then, DeShan was already a popular teacher in Cinnaminson. School officials removed him from the classroom for three weeks in 2002 while they investigated. But he quickly returned to teaching after some parents and students rallied to his defense.
Earlier this year, the school district changed its mind and filed tenure charges against DeShan after the parents of current students learned about the former priest’s past and complained to the school board that a “rapist” was teaching their children at Cinnaminson Middle School.
DeShan is included on a list of current and former clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse released by the Diocese of Bridgeport. DeShan said the sexual relationship with the teenager was consensual and he was never prosecuted in Connecticut due to the statute of limitations law on sexual abuse.
Cinnaminson school officials argued “parental and societal views have changed” in the last few years, according to tenure charges filed against the teacher in January. The district said DeShan should be removed from teaching for “conduct unbecoming a staff member."
But an arbitrator for the state Department of Education disagreed. In a decision released April 2, arbitrator Walt De Treux said DeShan’s past sexual misconduct is not enough to remove him from the classroom.
The board of education did not prove that DeShan “engaged in any inappropriate conduct while holding public employment,” De Treux wrote in his decision.
DeShan did not immediately responded to requests to comment on the arbitrator’s decision.
Cinnaminson officials said they were not happy with the arbitrator’s ruling.
“The district is disappointed with the decision and currently exploring options to resolve the matter. However, it is our district policy to refrain from comments regarding open personnel and legal matters. The well-being of our entire school community is always our highest priority,” Stephen Cappello, Cinnaminson’s superintendent of schools, said in a statement.
Cinnaminson’s board of education can appeal the decision to the state Department of Education.
Cinnaminson school officials cited one recent complaint about DeShan. In that case, the teacher allegedly commented on a young female student’s eyes. According to the complaint, he said: “Look at me. Let me see your pretty green eyes. You don’t see them too much anymore.”
The student reported the comment made her uncomfortable and the teacher spoke in a “weird voice.” But the arbitrator said the allegations -- along with complaints from parents who said they were concerned that their children are in a classroom with a teacher known for past sexual misconduct -- were “hearsay” and do not provide enough evidence to remove DeShan from the classroom.
“The fact that some parents now demand his removal from the classroom does not give the board of education a second opportunity to revisit pre-employment conduct of which it has been long aware,” De Treux wrote, dismissing the tenure charges.
SNAP, a survivor’s network for victims of sexual abuse, said the arbitrator’s decision defies common sense.
“We beg New Jersey school and political officials to see what kind of administrative or legislative reforms must be made to prevent this kind of dangerous decision in the future,” the group said in a statement.
DeShan earns $85,624 a year as a 6th grade reading teacher, according to state records.
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