The election for the Hoboken Board of Education has escalated after a slate running for the board has attacked another for being “extremists” in the Mile Square City.
The “Leadership That Listens” slate, led by incumbent Trustee Alex De La Torre, sent a campaign flyer attacking the “Kids First” slate of Pavel Sokolov, Cindy Wiegand and Donna Magen, accusing them of being tied to Republicans and conservative issues on schools, according to a digital copy obtained by the Hudson Reporter.
The flyer alleges that Sokolov, the secretary of the Hoboken Republican Party, “actively campaigned for Donald Trump, backing policies that would have reduced funding to Hoboken schools.”
It alleges that Magen, a first time candidate, had sought an endorsement from “QAnon alt-right groups The NJ Project and NJ Fresh Faced Schools,” and that The NJ Project is an anti-mask and anti-vaccine group that “opposes studying diversity and inclusion in schools and supports banning books.”
It also claims Wiegand, a former City Council candidate, had petitioned her kids’ school to eliminate “any COVID safety protocols.”
The other side of the flyer then touts the “Leadership That Listens” slate, which also includes Antonio Grana, a Zoning Board member, and Leslie Norwood, a member of the Hoboken Public Education Foundation.
The flyer represents an escalation in the race for three seats on the board (with two of them open), which has become the most crowded after the failed high school referendum in January.
It also comes amidst the backdrop of attacks against school boards across the country, which started from opposition to mask mandates, before then turning into attacks on what’s taught about race, gender and LGBT issues.
Earlier today, the “Leadership That Listens” slate sent a press release elaborating more on their flyer, and called on the “Kids First” slate to drop their endorsement of “New Jersey Project,” who they say “actively besmirches New Jersey teachers and their association, referring to them as clowns and accusing them of indoctrinating students.”
“At a time where extremists are attempting to infiltrate school boards across the country, we call on Pavel, Donna and Cindy to disavow this group and all of NJP’s extremist viewpoints,” says the press release. It also links to NJ Project’s website that shows the group endorsing the slate.
A review of Magen’s Facebook posts by the Hudson Reporter show that she has made posts against mask wearing in schools on the “NJ Fresh Faced Schools” Facebook group, which also shares other posts against vaccine mandates.
The “New Jersey Project” Facebook page also shows that they’re against the state’s new sex education standards.
Magen had also spoken out against mask mandates during a Board of Education meeting in September of last year, claiming that masking children “is a psychological stressor.”
“We need to know our children are okay and cannot simply assume they are fine because they are compliant and put their masks on when we tell them to,” she said at the time. “We have a duty of care and I don’t believe we’re checking in on them. Please stop telling us children are resilient without knowing if they really are. Obedience is not the same as resilience.”
In an interview with the Hudson Reporter earlier this month, Magen mentioned that she became “energized” because of COVID restrictions, and said that she wanted to talk to the board “about a year-and-a-half” into the pandemic, likely referring to the meeting where she spoke.
“When I did reach out personally to [Superintendent] Dr. [Christine] Johnson, I find her a very neutral, very open minded voice, someone that is happy to bounce ideas off of each other,” she said at the time. “But I did not feel that from the board.”
In the same interview, Sokolov had alleged at the time that the opposing slate got advice from someone at City Hall to associate his slate with Republican positions on national issues since he’s a Republican, which he said has “nothing to do with Hoboken or anything with character.” He cited “other journalists” as the source of the allegations.
In an email to the Hudson Reporter, the “Kids First” slate members responded to the allegations by “Leadership That Listens”, with Sokolov disputing that he campaigned for Trump, and that he’s been “completely transparent about my background, experience and ideas related to the BOE.”
Wiegand responded to the allegations against her by saying that she signed a letter her husband wrote a letter in July asking the school “return to normal as all state level COVID mandates had ended,” and that the letter “had many citations in it.”
“The school has implemented nearly everything in my husband’s letter for this academic year,” she said. “Hiding the context shows a complete lack of transparency from the LTL team.”
Magen said that the reason she was against mask wearing for children was because she was “an exhausted stressed out parent with a young child who was suffering from the physical and emotional toll of the pandemic and crying about wearing a mask.”
“My personal feelings at that time were that the mental health of our children outweighed the mixed data about the efficacy of cloth masks,” she said.
The whole slate also claimed that that they have “no knowledge of [New Jersey Project] or anyone associated with it.”
Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher condemned the flyers in an email newsletter, calling it a “partisan, slanderous attack mailer.”
“The bullying, dishonest and divisive partisan rhetoric and character assassination in our local, non-partisan elections has to stop,” she wrote. “And right now, the only messages out there is that this behavior is somehow okay. And it isn’t. And I know you agree with me.”
“Maybe you can, but I cannot support any candidates who think dishonest political bullying is acceptable,” she continued. “Especially those who are running to set the culture for our schools.”