Secaucus Board of Education to vote on transferring suspended HS principal, after he files intent for $5M suit

Bob Berckes, at the recent televised Secaucus Board of Education meeting
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Bob Berckes, at the recent televised Secaucus Board of Education meeting

SECAUCUS–The Secaucus Board of Education is set to vote on transferring suspended Secaucus High School Principal Dr. Bob Berckes to the Clarendon Elementary School, according to the agenda for the Thursday, June 28 meeting.

The transfers would also move current Clarendon Principal Steven Viggiani to replace Berckes at Secaucus High School. Secaucus Middle School Principal Robert Valente would become the new Huber Street School principal.

The Board would transfer Christine Candela, the district’s current supervisor of English language arts and social studies, to replace Valente at the middle school.

The news comes days after a NJ.com report revealed that Berckes intends to sue Superintendent Jennifer Montesano and the entire board over his suspension, for $5 million. The suit could add up to 10 more defendants, the outlet reported.

In the suit, NJ.com says, Berckes claims he’s sustained emotional distress and embarrassment over his removal. He also alleges, the article said, that the suspension has affected his chiropractor business in town.

The district first suspended Berckes and Assistant Principal Jeffrey Case–who will resign June 30–in April after an incident where a student allegedly brought a knife and marijuana to school. Though the district has not clarified why the suspension happened, Berckes gave his side at the May 10 board meeting.

He claimed that he and Montesano agreed the student would be suspended. But after discarding the alleged drugs with a school officer, he claims his superiors tried to get the officer to say he didn’t follow protocol.

In his suit, according to NJ.com, Berckes reiterates much of the claims he made during his appearance last month.

The board’s investigation has drawn concern from Mayor Michael Gonnelli. At the May 24 Board meeting, Gonnelli urged members to make a decision regarding Berckes. He argued that what Berckes did “is not criminal.” He also believes that Montesano got “bad advice” in this instance, but does not know who gave it to her.

Gonnelli plans to air his grievances at the June 28 board meeting.

Board member Lou Giele, who also spoke favorably of Berckes at the May 24 meeting, wasn’t upset by the filing. “To be honest with you, Berckes has every right to file a suit,” Giele said. “The actions we have taken were totally unjustified and unwarranted. I have a real problem with whether or not he’s been given due process.”