Parents of special needs children in a New Jersey school district say they want three teachers who were caught in an online chat allegedly making disparaging comments about students and former colleagues fired from the district.
The chat was discovered by a co-worker after the three teachers at Edison schools spent the morning of Oct. 23 voluntarily training on Chromebook laptops, according to NJ Advance Media, which first obtained a transcript of the chat.
One of the teachers, Tyler Van Pelt, invited the others, Maria Weber and Maryellen Lechelt, into what he called a "personal wiseass backchannel discussion" on a public chat program called Today's Meet, according to the chat transcript.
"i like the group name 'morons,'" Lechelt allegedly wrote of one group of her special education students. "they take the tart cart home."
Van Pelt allegedly called children "short bus kids," adding that he referred to one of his groups of students as "I hate you don't waste my time."
Lechelt allegedly said she referred to another group as "jesus christ, why the ---- did they place you with me?"
"Middle group = just shut your mouth and do your work," she added of another group of students.
The two are teachers at Lincoln Elementary School. Weber, a teacher at James Monroe, did not respond to those messages, transcripts show. But she allegedly participated in disparaging the woman running the computer training program that day in a conversation filled with sexual innuendo.
The chat was discovered by another teacher in the training room, who said she heard them laugh after she turned around to shush them, according to NJ Advance Media. She suspected they were chatting about her, and found the chat transcript insulting. She reported the chat to her principal.
The three were suspended with pay and are accused of unbecoming conduct, insubordination for misuse of school technology, failure to pay attention to the training and violating the district's sexual harassment and affirmative action policies, among other charges.
At a meeting Monday evening, the Edison Board of Education moved forward in a process to potentially terminate the teachers, putting them on paid leave for 120 days. Their case will be sent to an arbitrator, who will decide whether to fire the teachers, reduce their pay or reinstate them.
Parent Anthony Pasquale said during the public remarks portion of the meeting: "I truthfully feel there should be an apology by those teachers to the school district and to the township."
"If you choose to be a teacher, it's a public work. You're dealing with kids. If you don't have it in you, I feel like the decent thing for you to do is to resign," said parent Andrea Siragusa.
A fourth teacher who participated in the chats, Jonathan Bauza, resigned rather than face disciplinary action, the district told NJ Advance Media.
NBC 4 New York was unable to reach the teachers' lawyers Monday, but Lechelt's lawyer told NJ Advance Media prior to the vote that he believes the teachers' punishment is inappropriate.
-- Checkey Beckford contributed to this report.