Jersey City BOE continues game of musical chairs, Blount replaces Barkouch as VP


The Jersey City Board of Education continued their game of musical chairs, with Trustee George Blount unceremoniously replacing Trustee Younass Barkouch at the tail end of yesterday’s four-hour meeting.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“The topic of conversation for a lot of people here is Eid. I will respect that the board has made their decision from the last time I motioned, but after hearing [Local 2262] President [Lakeisha] Jenkins speak, I would ask if potentially we could do something for the members of 2262 who are Muslim, if they could be excused on April 10th so they don’t have to use their days,” Barkouch said.

“That’s something I’d like to recommend to the board to consider, as President Jenkins asked. You guys look a little bit confused, should I clarify? President Jenkins, when she spoke, said that members of her union who were Muslim, would have to use days to celebrate Eid on April 10th. So they will get April 8th off, because they are Muslim and wish to celebrate Eid, they will use a vacation day, FMLA day, a sick day.”

Trustee Christopher Tisdale asked Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez what day the school district is observing Juneteenth, to which she said June 23rd.

“So the point that I’m making is this: the observations that take place on several days or on different days, not necessarily the date of whatever. The school district is not responsible, unfortunately, for integrating people’s religious beliefs,” he asserted.

“Now, there are instances where we’re accommodating and say ‘yes, we can accommodate,’ we don’t care what any believes, here is an opportunity for people to take specific days off for whatever the case is. The question is this: when the preliminary calendar came out last year, how many calls, or emails, or anything, did you get in regards to the date already being dates for April 8th?”

Tisdale continued by asking if the administration received any complaints after the board approved the calendar and Fernandez said there were none and he pressed on as to why such a change was being proposed at the last minute.

Barkouch said that his colleague was 100 percent right and he took responsibility for not looking at the district calendar sooner, as well as for the Muslim community as a whole not addressing it sooner.

However, he explained that the issue with Eid and other Muslim holidays is that they follow a lunar calendar, therefore each month has 29 to 30 days, with the deciding factor being whether the crescent moon is seen.

Therefore, he said there is no way to know the exact date of Eid other than by guesstimating, since the actual date is unknown until two weeks prior.

Tisdale responded that it would essentially be impossible to plan for in advance then, also pushing back against the notion made during public comment that this would be the same as changing the observation for Christmas, noting that Christmas is always celebrated on December 25th.

Barkouch replied that the New Jersey Department of Education had correctly guesstimated April 10th as the observed day for Eid, and while he wasn’t asking for a formal vote, he still wanted to see if there was anything the district could do at this juncture.

Trustee Afaf Muhammad then accused Barkouch of telling her that she was going to rally residents to speak about Eid since the board previously did not approve a motion he put up, claiming he also insulted her for not standing with the Muslim community.

“Because now that you have the threat, or the knowledge I should say, it’s not a threat, it’s the knowledge that you have that I’m going to remove you as vice president because you … have dangled your allegiance to us to try to persuade us to vote certain ways for you and it’s unfair, unjust, and I cannot sit with leadership like that,” she said.

“I apologize for doing this just two weeks into us changing leadership, but it’s no different from the leadership we just came from.”

She then made a motion for a vote of no confidence and the removal of Barkouch as vice president. The motion was seconded by Tisdale.

He said that the board made a mistake at the prior meeting, where Trustee Dejon Morris was voted president and Barkouch was named VP, again, after the same votes took place at a chaotic meeting on February 29th.

Tisdale said that Barkouch had already reneged on an agreement he had with the four trustees who voted for him twice (Morris, Tisdale, Muhammad, and Trustee Paula Jones-Watson), declining to get into the particulars, but said it had to be corrected immediately.

Barkouch said he’d respect the board’s decision and wouldn’t walk out of the meeting because of it, referring to what happened last month when then-President Natalia Ioffe and then-Vice President Noemi Velazquez were among the four trustees who left after Ioffe attempted to call for a recess.

“Now that you have made the motion to remove me, I can speak freely and I can completely forego the fact that I’m trying to make amends with whatever dysfunction we might’ve had,” he began.

“In my opinion, if you’re going to schedule a day for a holiday for a religious group to observe, pick the right day, otherwise you do not choose a day at all. It is not respectful of the Muslim community to schedule Eid for April 8th, while we’re still fasting, on Eid, we celebrate, we eat, we pray in the morning, eat with our friends and family, we pray with our friends and family in the morning, and we celebrate and we do things in the afternoon and evening.”

Barkouch continued that he was being removed for abstaining on the vote for special legal services at the prior meeting, causing the vote for Souder Shabazz & Woolridge to fail in a tie vote (4-4(1)), as well as for fighting the situation involving Eid.

He vowed that he will always speak up for his community, whether he is vice president or not.

Tisdale responded that he was being removed because on March 18th, the day before the prior meeting, he called him asking for his support, along with other members, to become board president.

“You’re being removed because of your inability to show allegiance to the group … You are nobody’s vice president. The only reason you decided to sit there and acquiesce and be the vice president is because, as a result of your actions, we told you we’d make Noemi or Natalia stay as vice president,” he exclaimed.

“That’s the only reason you became the vice president, even when [Trustee] George [Blount] asked the question, ‘why not you Tisdale?’ I told them I’m not interested. We had a plan in place, you decided, you, you decided you were gonna be the vice president because you were gonna sabotage the vote of the president that we had selected.”

Morris refused to let Barkouch speak again before calling for a vote on the motion, which was approved 7-1(1), with Barkouch voting no and Ioffe abstaining.

Ioffe then nominated Velazquez, while Muhammad nominated Blount.

Velazquez’s nomination failed 4-4(1), with Blount, Muhammed, Tisdale, and Barkouch voting no and  Morris abstaining. Blount’s nomination was approved 5-3(1), with Velazquez, Barkouch, and Trustee Alpa Patel voting no and Ioffe abstaining.

The board then adjourned immediately, ignoring Barkouch’s request to be heard one last time.

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