On only its second meeting, the newly-reorganized Board of Education was confronted Wednesday by a concerned parent demanding his child’s 4th grade teacher be suspended for what he called months of alleged harassment.
“My family and myself have gone through some tough times with the Secaucus school system in the last six months,” said parent John Schwartz. He said he transferred his nine year old daughter from Huber Street Elementary School to Clarendon to get her away from her fourth grade teacher, charging the alleged abusive behavior was suffered by the entire class.
Schwartz, who is also the town’s recreation facility director, questioned why the teacher had not been suspended and asked the newly-elected board to take action on the matter.
“As soon as she came home with the shingles…we wanted to know what was stressing her out.” – John Schwartz
Schwartz said during an interview that since his daughter began fourth grade at Huber Street Elementary School last fall, she would often complain about her teacher and the way the teacher treated the students. Schwartz and his wife figured their daughter was only nervous about the start of school. But they became alarmed once their daughter came home with a rash, which a doctor diagnosed as shingles. The doctor told him his daughter’s condition was related to stress in the classroom, according to Schwartz.
“She knows what [the teacher] was saying to these kids was wrong,” said Schwartz. “She took it to heart.”
Their daughter had complained of being allegedly mocked by her teacher for not turning in homework and that the teacher allegedly called the students names such as “clowns,” “brats,” and “knuckleheads.”
His daughter carried a recording device
According to Schwartz, he equipped his daughter with a recording device and over a two and a half day period she recorded the teacher in the classroom. He alleged that the audio shows the teacher intimidated and degraded the children.
Schwartz said he took the issue to the principal, the school administration, and the board. He said he asked the school principal to remove the teacher from the classroom but was told that would not happen. He said he has also pursued the matter with a lawyer and at the state and county levels.
The board said during the meeting that they could not respond to his questions because the incident was a personnel matter.
“This board needs to step up,” said Schwartz. “We have a lot of things going on in this town, on this board, and in this administration that is ridiculous. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”
“We found that it was not an HIB incident,” said Superintendent Cynthia Randina. New Jersey has laws governing Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) in the classroom. “So the parents appealed the HIB. The board reviewed the entire matter and concluded that it was not an HIB incident. My understanding is that it has gone to the commissioner’s level.”
Schwartz said that he took the matter to Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf and said the county will conduct its own investigation.
Former board president and current trustee Sal Manente said that he was satisfied with how the past board handled the matter.
“We did the right thing,” said Manente. He said that corrective action was taken to address the alleged abrasive language used by the teacher in the classroom but that it was not at the HIB level.
Both Manente and Randina listened to the audio tape and both said they did not think it constituted HIB. He said the teacher is currently under evaluation and doing everything that is required. Manente said he didn’t think the teacher’s classroom behavior was sufficient grounds for dismissal.
“I think [the teacher] just got a little frustrated at some point and certain things came out,” said Manente. He said the teacher has a “rough” classroom with children that are difficult to reach that cause incidents in the class.
“Sometimes things come out that shouldn’t come out and you say something in the wrong way,” said Manente.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.