The Jersey City Board of Education heard allegations of racist hiring practices and student bullying during the public portion of last week’s meeting.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Again, it is necessary for you guys to stop using the model of the plantation for how you give out these jobs, okay? We should not have to be looking at a glass ceiling just because we’re Black,” stated Elizabeth Perry, who filed a gender discrimination suit against the district at the end of last year.
“If you guys are looking through the glass ceiling and it’s your floor, it’s because you’re white, alright? So I put in to have an interview for Clerk 2 and I was told that I was rejected – less than 24 hours later I was told that I was rejected. I have since asked for information, evidence, conclusions as to why I keep not passing your interviews.”
She continued that she was told by district officials she could not be promoted without having knowledge of how to use certain online database systems, which Perry argued should be part of mandatory training offered by the schools.
Rodna Lebron, a district parent until recently, indicated that her son Julian had been bullied to the point where she decided to pull him out of the public schools and home school him instead.
“I’m a parent. I may look young but I’m a parent of the 10-year-old who has been bulled in P.S. 24. You guys created an investigation against harassment, intimidation, and bullying – that evidence showed there was none – to my son Julian,” she began.
“I would like to speak with you guys, I would like to look at your faces because I work in the medical field! I have to go and make actions for people who has no voices. You guys are responsible for the children who are crying out of bullying … My son’s been bullied! He was jumped! He was jumped! January 3rd!”
Board President Natalia Ioffe interjected, noting that Lebron did not sign up to speak and was not speaking on an agenda item like the speakers before her did (the open public portion had not begun yet).
The local parent shouted that she had emailed the board and received no responses, though Ioffe said that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez had answered her.
At the podium, one of Lebron’s friends said there was an agenda item regarding harassment and bullying, therefore this was the appropriate time to discuss this issue. Ioffe hesitantly agreed and asked Lebron to finish her remarks.
“You superintendents and board members are in positions to represent our children with voices. Being a victim of bullying, I know there are many signs that are … not taken seriously. It traumatizes and continues to effect the child throughout adulthood.”
She continued that she considered taking her own life over the magnitude of this situation, as well as that they were failing many youth who end up in the streets and/or gangs.
Lebron also claimed there is a video recording of her son being jumped on January 3rd and that she is seriously considering taking the district to court after filing a tort claim earlier this month.
A district employee, LaKeisha Jenkins, said that her union still does not have a signed contract agreement or even a memorandum of understanding.
“It’s been 10 months and 23 days from the time you board members voted on it. Is it because you all, along with our union president, only had two negotiating meetings on September 23rd, 2021 – which was the first date of the start of talks – [and] October 7th, 2021,” she explained.
“Then on December 4th, we the membership voted our contract down – both part timers and full time. At that time, [Superintendent] Mr. Walker and [Board President] Mussab Ali and two other board members resigned after the December 16th meeting so that was the last time, but Mussab was actually part of the negotiation process.”
Jenkins added that while the board also approved a salary guide, they are basically null and void without an MOU or contract and has taken their complaint to the PERC board.
Next, Daryn Martin, who was sporting a Black Lives Matter hat, accused the district of operating like “a circus” before airing grievances about harassment and bullying.
“Her daughter, Ms. Hernandez [Fernandez] already knows already, was jumped, it was premeditated, it was video taped, it was put on social media. Instead of them helping this young lady out, you guys asked her to give her the option of leaving the school instead of moving the troublemakers,” he said.
“We got a problem in this county, in this city, with recycling bad teachers, all types of bad – bad students we just shuffle ’em around like it’s gonna go away – it doesn’t go away like that. Her daughter was given that option to leave, so she did and she’s miserable because she wanted to stay at the school she was at.”
He further asserted that Fernandez had received documentation that cleared the name of the mother of the student in question, who had not been able to work in the district since the fall due to an ongoing investigation.
“There’s nothing on her record to stop her from working, this lady hasn’t been working since October. Now, I’m wondering if you do that to just Black people or if it happens to everyone in this city because enough is enough with the racism that’s going on in this district.”
He also called for superintendents to be elected since the administration has allowed too many cases along these lines to slip between the cracks, which he cautioned would lead to more lawsuits.
Jenine Blair, who Martin had been speaking on behalf of, said board members had received videos, text messages, and court letters related to her daughter being bullied over the course of several months, and they had yet to take any action.
“No one once asked my daughter her side of the story. Not once, but you figured that nothing happened. You have kids stating ‘I’m gonna kill you.’ You didn’t find anything wrong with that. We sent a video showing her walking up the block when a girl snatched her back by her hair. You didn’t find anything wrong with that,” she exclaimed.
“They took her phone in school: you didn’t find anything wrong with that. They called her every kind of fat b-i-t-c-h and you didn’t find anything wrong with that. Nothing. So you tell me, what is the HIB law in place for?”
Blair also said she was humiliated and embarrassed when she got arrested for defending her daughter.
“I’m not going anywhere because you know what was done was wrong. It was never addressed. You allow these kids to continue to bully my daughter. She’s out of the school. And what is this child doing? Still bullying and you’re aware of it.”
Prior to breaking for executive session at the over five-hour meeting, Fernandez said she could not discuss legal or personnel issues in public.
Trustee Afaf Muhammed called the allegations during public comment “very disturbing” and called for the board to address them in closed session, pointing out that her child was also bullied while attending the public schools.
Trustee Paula Jones-Watson agreed with Perry’s suggestion that the district should provide mandatory training for employees to learn online systems, while Trustee Younass Barkouch asked if it would make sense to have a committee designed specifically to hear employee’s concerns.
Board Counsel Michael Gross said that the board is not supposed to negotiate or deal with employee grievances outside of conversations with their elected union representatives.