Complaints about hiring practices and bullying dominated Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Several staff members approached the podium to talk about perceived racism within the district’s hiring practices. Some parents said the district had not done their due diligence in complying with the harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) policies in schools. 

Elizabeth Perry wanted to speak about the hiring of a “Clerk 2” position. “It is necessary for you guys to stop using the model of the plantation for how you give out these jobs,” she said. According to Perry, she had applied for a Clerk 2 position multiple times but been passed over for white candidates.

Several other Black staff members spoke about their experiences of being passed over for promotions and leadership roles, despite their qualifications and years of service. They described what they felt is a culture of systemic racism within the district, where white staff members were given preferential treatment and opportunities for advancement.

Sabrina Harrold said the rules employees are given for personnel changes are not the same rules that are followed in practice. Despite certain roles requiring a test before promotion, Harrold said HR promotes people without qualifications and then has to pull them from the roles, which is disheartening for the employees.

“People feel like we’re turning our back to them,” said trustee Lekendrick Shaw, explaining that while the Board did discuss personnel issues during closed executive session, the people affected did not get to hear about it. 

Offering a more direct solution to the hiring problems in the district, trustee Lorenzo Richardson said, “Back in 2012, we did an HR audit, and we probably need to do one now.”

Several parents came to the podium to say their children had been bullied, with the offenders taking videos, but that their numerous complaints had been ignored by Superintendent Norma Fernandez and others.

“You have an anti-bullying bill of rights,” said Darren Martin, representing Jenine Blair, a parent and educator in the district, “so my question to the trustees is how do you guys allow that.” 

He said that Blair’s daughter had been asked to move schools instead of reprimanding the students who attacked her. 

Rodna, who did not provide her last name, said her son Julian had been bullied to the point that she decided to homeschool him. Because of this, Rodna said that she had filed a lawsuit.

“Many of the issues are legal or personnel related and cannot be discussed in public” said Fernandez. 

However, there were less contentious moments during the meeting, which began with a celebration of women’s history month. By the end, quoting trustee Christopher Tisdale, Ioffe suggested to those in attendance that “change is a process.”

Though on the agenda, the proposed 2023-2024 budget was not discussed. The Jersey Journal has reported that it includes a proposed $1,001 231,825 in spending, an increase of $27 million from the prior year. The tax levy would increase by 2% and have a negligible effect on property taxes.

Vincent Onofre is a journalist based in the tri-state area. Raised in Texas, he has found a love for the northeast and New Jersey pizza. His go-to beats include politics and civics, healthcare and education....