Updated: Stanley: School Board President Should Resign Over Same-Sex Marriage Comments At FHS Graduation
Video courtesy Ed Potosnak.
A Board of Education member is calling for the board president’s resignation over comments he made on same-sex marriage at the 2015 Franklin High School graduation.
In a July 3 letter to board president Ed Potosnak and copied to the rest of the 9-member board, board member Pat Stanley said Potosnak “hijacked” the graduation ceremony at Trenton’s Sun Bank Arena with his comments about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, released earlier that day, legalizing same-sex marriage.
“I request that you resign as President of the Franklin Township Board of Education,” Stanley wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate.
During the ceremony, which was videotaped by the district, Potosnak, who is gay, said the “historic civil rights decision” legalizing same-sex marriage “ is a decision “that is deeply personal for me, for my family, so today, your graduation is extra special to me.”
“I graduated high school into a world that discriminated against me and today that discrimination ends, and for you there will be no discrimination on the basis of your sexual orientation,” Potosnak said.
Potosnak’s statement was met with cheers and applause from some members of the audience. Former interim schools Superintendent Lee Seitz could also be seen applauding.
In her letter, Stanley said that while Potosnak has the “right to free speech,” he does not “have the right to hijack a ceremony that was of great importance to over 500 students, their parents and their invited guests.”
“It was disrespectful to them on their long-awaited, special day,” Stanley wrote. “You presented very personal information regarding yourself and your intimate life which was just uncalled for in that venue. It was inappropriate behavior at an inappropriate time.”
Stanley said that Potosnak should not take her comments as being anti-gay.
“(I)n my thirteen years in professional music and theatre, I have known many, many homosexual men,” she wrote. “I still have friends who are professionals in the business. But they always behave like mature gentlemen and are truly considerate of other people.”
Stanley also called on the other seven members of the board to request Potosnak’s resignation.
“It is important to have someone be the public face of the Franklin Township Board of Education who truly puts the students and their families first and not their personal lives or views,” she wrote.
Board member Christine Danielsen said she would “absolutely not” call for Potosnak to resign.
“I plan to speak on his behalf” at the board’s next meeting, set for July 23 in Franklin High School, she said.
“Asking Mr. Potasnak to resign would be irresponsible,” Danielsen wrote in an email. “The students, teachers, staff, administration, parents & community members would be hard pressed to find another Board President who cares about and works as hard for the students in Franklin Township as Ed does.”
Board vice president Nancy LaCorte, who was also at graduation that day, spoke in favor of Potosnak’s comments in a letter to the editor.
“What Mr. Potasnak told the kids was if they saw something wrong in the world to use their voice to make a difference,” she wrote. “As I stood on line shaking their hands and congratulating them, I overheard a few students say to Mr. Potasnak ‘Thank you for your speech. It meant a lot to me.’ It made me smile because at least for those kids they know we celebrate them.”
In a message, Potosnak said he would not be resigning.
“Franklin Township is a diverse community that does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and I do not tolerate discrimination,” he wrote.
Potosnak said he feared that Stanley’s letter could “distract from the great work we are doing as a board, we have really come together in my tenure as president.”
“My message to our graduates acknowledged their great accomplishments, our pride, and the fact they are leaving here for a bigger world armed with the tools Franklin public schools helped provide to really make a difference,” Potosnak wrote. “No matter how small they may feel, they can really make a change and improve our community. In referencing the Supreme Court case, released hours before the ceremony, I highlighted how much change they have experienced in their lifetimes, and how they are prepared to make the world more fair, more just, more equal of future generations.”
Potosnak wrote that Stanley’s letter “is likely to be addressed in the future.”
The remaining board members – including Stanley – did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Garden State Equality, a statewide advocacy group for the LGBT community, issued a call for its members to attend the July 23 board meeting to support Potosnak.
“Commencement speeches are meant to teach students about the world they’re entering,” Aaron Potenza, the group’s Bullying Resource Center Organizer, said in a release. “Ed Potosnak sent a positive message about love, acceptance, and the historical importance of the moment, which is absolutely appropriate and necessary.”
“Our students need positive messages that show the importance of respecting identities, including LGBT identities,” Potenza said in the release. “Ed Potosnak has done the work of a great educator.”
This is a developing story; check back for updates.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 The Franklin Reporter & Advocate