In an attempt to change the way they are portrayed in the media, some members of the Jersey City Board of Education attempted at the Jan. 16 caucus to get the board to issue a joint statement disputing the perception that they are opposed to Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles.
Board President Sudhan Thomas said some members of objected to way they were portrayed in The Jersey Journal and The Hudson Reporter.
The Reporter, in a story about the board’s reorganization meeting earlier this month, made reference to two factions on the board that can generally be described as those who support School Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles, and those who oppose her. This was based on some of the members’ statements in the past, as well the support they received from the teachers’ union, which is generally perceived as anti-Lyles. It was unclear what the board objections were to the story in The Journal.
The anti-Lyles faction, the story said, includes Sudhan Thomas Lorenzo Richardson, Mussab Ali, Marilyn Roman, and Angel Valentin. Those who appear to be pro-Lyles to some degree include Vidya Gangadin, Amy DeGise, Pastor Luis F. Fernandez, and Matthew Schapiro.
“I’ve talked to the reporters from The Reporter and The Journal,” Thomas said, noting that both journalists said they were open to printing responses from the board. Thomas, along with Richardson and Ali, asked the board to draft and send to the papers a statement objecting to how they were depicted.
But the move failed when five other board members refused to authorize the statement.
Trustee Matt Schapiro called it “a freedom of press” issue, and pointed to current attacks on media being conducted by the White House on a national level.
“I think individual members can issue statements of their own,” Schapiro said. “But issuing a joint statement sets a bad precedent.”
He said it might be seen as an attempt by the board to suppress the news.
“Yes, we have a free press, but I do not want to be classified as someone against Dr. Lyles,” Richardson said.
A joint statement would imply that all the members of the board agree on the issue, he said, and clearly from the reactions at the caucus, not all did.
Trustee Angel Valentin, who had been labeled at anti-Lyles said, “I’m not anti-anyone, I’m pro kids.”
Roman, who was also pegged as part of the anti-Lyles camp, said she doesn’t care about the labels, and is focused on what she has to do as a board member. She said her record shows that 98 percent of the time she has voted with Lyles, and that she speaks up when she sees something she disagrees with.
DeGise, who along with four other trustees opposed issuing the official statement, said she believes her role is to make the system a success.
“We are all working very hard,” she said.
Also in dispute was the term “progressive,” which was used to identify the pro-Lyles faction of the board. Thomas said he sees himself as a progressive as well. He labeled the others as reformers.
The dictionary meaning for a progressive is “a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.” The dictionary of meaning of a reformer is “a person who makes changes to something in order to improve it.”
The controversy comes at a time when Thomas is trying to repair the fractures on a board that has been in conflict since Lyles was first appointed more than five years ago. And over the year, support for Lyles was often at the core of constant conflict.
The reorganization meeting earlier in January showed just how much work needs to be done in bringing the two sides together, since the board voted in blocs for president, vice president, and on other issues.
In an attempt to alter the perception of pro and anti-Lyles positions, members from both factions said they would work together with Lyles for the common good of the students.
In a somewhat ironic note, several board members said the board did not need to issue an official statement.
“The reporter is right here,” Roman said. “And he’s taking notes.”
Ethnic slur policy may be reviewed
Dr. Lyles said she could not comment on statements made by two members of the public who had problems with the way the school district punishes people who use ethnic slurs.
Two board members said there seemed to be a double standard that punishes some harsher than others. They referred to a current employee, who they said has routinely used slurs again African-American workers at the school, and been found guilty, and yet was allowed to work overtime while others who were accused but not yet proven guilty could not.
Under the public comment policy, the public is not banned from using people’s names in their comments, but the board attorney said such statements were made at the risk for the speaker, who could be held accountable for misstatements.
Lyles said the board is not allowed to discuss personnel issues in public. Several other board members said in private that they would bring up the matter in closed session to see what the policies are regarding such behavior by school employees.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.