HELL'S KITCHEN — This teacher gets the dunce cap.
High School of Graphic Communication Arts teacher Mona Lisa Tello has been arrested after a Department of Education investigation found that she forged a spelling-error-filled fake jury duty document to take 15 paid days off in 2010 and 2011.
Tello, 61, a bilingual science teacher who has been with the DOE since 1998, signed an agreement to resign on Jan. 15, and pay back $3,374.88 in salary she received for the supposed jury duty days. The Manhattan District Attorney has charged her with three forgery offenses.
The DOE's Special Commissioner of Investigation caught wind of the fake documents after the school's old principal, Jerod Resnick, noticed several spelling errors on a letter dated May 11, 2011, supposedly requiring Tello to serve jury duty in New Jersey over several months in 2010 and 2011.
The letter's errors included "trail" instead of trial, "sited" instead of cited, and "manger" instead of manager, the SCI said in a letter dated Aug. 31.
“It is the recommendation of this office that Mona Lisa Tello’s employment be terminated,” SCI head Richard Condon wrote.
Tello's error-ridden letter, which she used to take several unsanctioned long weekends, also used the wrong address and phone numbers for the Superior Court of New Jersey, authorities said. A bar code on it was fake, too, they said.
Resnick got suspicious that the letter was a fake, investigators said. Officials from the Superior Court of New Jersey said that Tello had been summoned for jury duty in 2010, but asked to defer it for a year.
"She was supposed to go to jury duty, she asked [the court] to be excused, and she submitted a letter saying she was serving duty anyway," said Laurel Wright-Hinckson, a spokeswoman for the SCI. "The date she submitted was totally false."
Authorities arrested Tello on Monday. Reached by telephone on Tuesday, she denied the allegations, saying she was forced to take the days off after falling down an escalator at the school. She said she tried to submit an injury report to the school, but the principal wouldn't accept it.
"I was forced to produce the [bogus court] letter," she said. "[Resnick] would not even sign off on my accident."
Tello, who also runs an event planning business in New Jersey, said she promised to resign because she has an unspecified disability, and she did not want to engage in a costly fight with administration.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education would not comment on Tello's allegations.
As part of her resignation agreement with the department, Tello agreed to drop any pending or future litigation against the city.
"Those were accident days, not jury days," Tello said.