North Bergen school board and NJ DOE misconduct

Preschool emergency exit 08-2021
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Preschool emergency exit 08-2021

Dear Editor:

Recently, the North Bergen School Board Secretary, who is also a Township Commissioner and the Commissioner of Parks, accused me of a “years-long disinformation campaign against North Bergen’s excellent preschool program…with a blatant and reprehensible attempt to scare parents into believing that their children are unsafe.”

This letter is not about the “excellent preschool program”, it is about the unsafe preschool and misconduct by officials.

1- The preschool, in 17 trailers (TCUs), has been illegally situated in Braddock Park for 20+ years, in violation of NJ DEP regulations.
The NJ Educational Association says TCUs should never be used “more than 20 years, assuming excellent maintenance.”

In 2017 I wrote the North Bergen Superintendent of Schools and NJ DOE’s Hudson County Superintendent of Schools that the Preschool TCUs appeared to be in violation of multiple N.J.A.C. 6A:26-8.1 State regulations:

2- N.J.A.C. 6A:26-8.1 regulations require NJ DOE to inspect TCUs annually, to make sure (among other things), that each TCU has 2 means of egress (emergency exits.)

The North Bergen Schools Superintendent claimed the TCUs “are inspected annually by the state Department of Education and have always passed.”

Documentation, available from NJ DOE, shows that NJ DOE didn’t conduct the required annual inspections from 2001, until 2019.

3- The North Bergen Schools Superintendent improperly denied the TCUs violated N.J.A.C. 6A:26-8.1 egress requirements for having only 1, not 2 emergency exits, but in 2008, North Bergen’s Fire Prevention Bureau issued North Bergen a violation for it.

Extremely troubling is that a 2012 fire destroyed 2 TCUs, yet the violation persisted for nearly 6 years afterward.

4- After I reported the egress problem in 2017, North Bergen BOE and NJ DOE scrambled to correct the violation, and in so doing, committed another violation: N.J.A.C. 6A:26-8.1.(d).2.ii says violations such as this must be corrected within 30 days, or NJ DOE “shall order unit immediately abandoned”.
The 2nd emergency exits were not installed within 30 days, nor were the TCUs abandoned.

5- N.J.A.C. 6A:26-3.14(g) states that temporary school facilities may be approved for use by NJ DOE for a MAXIMUM of 5 years – why are 20+ year old TCUs still in service?!

Numerous other unsafe conditions and violations have been documented; some were corrected, others were not.

Public officials have not represented the public’s interests; for 20+ years North Bergen has promised, but failed to deliver good, safe, permanent preschool facilities.

Instead of admitting to violating safety regulations which jeopardized lives, officials covered-up and denied the violations.

New Jersey DOE and NJ DEP should insist that all the preschoolers are placed in the elementary schools, as North Bergen had promised the Public and the State they would be, and the Attorney General should enforce the regulations.

Robert Walden