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Tempers Flare On School Board As Simmering Tensions Erupt

Board of Education members Pat Stanley and Walter Jackson during the September 24 Board meeting.

Sparks flew on Elizabeth Avenue during the September 24 Board of Education meeting as long-simmering tensions among some members exploded into public view, culminating with one Board member calling another a bigot.

Tensions between board member Pat Stanley and other members, including board president Nancy LaCorte, have been brewing for months. Stanley, whose political proclivities lean toward the very Conservative, is known for voting against policies, programs and text books she feels are too “Liberal.”

Of late, Stanley has made known her disdain for the Board’s recent actions in acknowledging that systemic racism exists in the district, including calling for the eradication of White supremacy in the board’s 2020 -21 goals, and approving anti-racism programs for students.

Stanley’s practice of voting “no” on matters involving race continued on September 24, when she cast the lone votes against three regulations:

  • One changing high school graduation requirements to include mandating students beginning with next year’s freshman take electives on issues of race, gender and equality, as well as swapping out the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment test for the old PARCC test.
  • Detailing what religious activities are allowed in schools.
  • Approving steps to support the Board’s anti-racism efforts.

That was too much for board vice president Ardaman Singh, who called Stanley out for never explaining why she voted no on certain measures.

“When we vote no to certain to certain items on the agenda, I think the community that has voted us on these positions have a right to know why we vote no,” Singh said.

Singh also objected to Stanley wearing her face mask under her nose, and asked LaCorte to query the board attorney on the proper procedure to “make sure that our board members are following the rules and regulations.”

Stanley didn’t answer Singh’s question, but she did make a statement calling out her fellow board members for what she called their hypocrisy in the person they named to fill out the unexpired term of Michelle Shelton, who resigned last month.

Stanley’s objection was that the board had two candidates – one who is Black and would have been new to the board, and former board member Christine Danielsen, who is White – and picked Danielsen.

“Eight weeks ago, we had a meeting where there was a question about residual White supremacy and systemic racism … those words appear in our goals,” she said. “I really want to point out the hypocrisy of this board, because we had a gentleman submit his resume on his own volition … the person just happened to have an absolutely exemplary resume … in order to continue the political perspective on this board, they went ahead and voted for Mrs. Danielsen.”

“What I suggest is that this board has to do some internal thinking about this, because we have to expand out into the rest of the community and when someone of Dr. Hopkin’s perspective, he stands up on his own volition, wants to help this board and then he’s ignored,” Stanley said, as she banged her hand on the table. “And I sit here thinking, I think I’m on another planet,” Stanley said, raising her voice. “Residual white supremacy. There you go.”

Board member Walter Jackson, who said he and his family personally know Hopkins, took Stanley to task for what he said was her assertion that the Board should have picked Hopkins because he is Black.

“As another African American man, I didn’t want to just vote for the African American man because I am Black,” he said. “It was based on the need … it was clear that Mrs. Danielsen … was the best candidate, based on the current need.”

“We all expressed exactly how we felt about Dr. Hopkins, and how we encouraged him to (run) for a three-year term once one becomes available,” Jackson said.

Jackson said Danielsen’s experience on the Board gave her the advantage of not having the learning curve that Hopkins would.

“I’m the newest board member, I’ve been here nine months, and I’m still learning,” Jackson said. “So for him to come in for three months and try to learn everything that I’m still learning in nine months, did not make sense. And that was the consensus of the entire board.”

“You don’t give him enough credit,” Stanley said.

“As I said before, I have a personal relationship with him …” Jackson began, before he was cut off by Stanley, who said, “And you still don’t give him enough credit.”

“Pat!” LaCorte yelled, in an effort to get her to stop interrupting Jackson.

“So right now Pat, you’re trying to tell me about an individual I know,” Jackson said. “If you really want to know what kind of credit I give this individual, have a conversation with him in terms of how he feels about me and my family and you’ll get the true answer because you can’t speak for him. He can speak for himself.”

“By the time he’s learned everything in three months that I’m still learning in nine months, it’s over,” Jackson began, when Stanley cut in with, “The community …”

“Pat!” LaCorte yelled again.

Stanley yelled back: “He asked me a question!”

“No!” LaCorte responded.

“The issue here, in terms of what’s going on politically, the introduction of that text and the absolute painting of a wide brush against Franklin Township,” Stanley said. “(A)nd then this is a perfect example of a person … all right, so it’s three months, this guy is a full Captain in the United States Navy, you think he can’t hit the ground and understand command, and understand context,” Stanley said as she banged the table again.

“The guy is a teacher at the college level, and you’re going to sit there and tell me that he can’t pick it up? Come on,” she said.

“If Mrs. Danielsen didn’t have the experience, who would we have picked?” Jackson asked.

“I have no idea,” Stanley said. “Mrs. Danielsen has political connections.”

Danielsen’s husband is state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17).

Jackson then tried to steer the discussion back to Singh’s original statement about Stanley voting “no” on certain items.

“You are the only person who consistently votes no on specific issues,” he said. “You didn’t answer specifically why you always vote no on certain items.”

“Because the policy issues that are always coming down, and they’re coming down from the New Jersey state Legislature, and a lot of these policies are never, ever seen by the parents,” Stanley said. “The new graduation recommendations … there’s all kinds of problems with New Jersey Learning Standards, and the parents are up in arms. Not here, but there are groups of parents …”

“A whole series of things are going to be jammed down everybody’s throat because of the way the education establishment is operating in Trenton,” Stanley said, using the “1619 curriculum,” which is a history of how Blacks were first brought to the Colonies 400 years ago, as an example.

“If you know … that parental rights are under attack, you’re going to open your mouth, or at least I am,” Stanley said.

Stanley then said that she was “elected by 8,000 people, and some of the people on this board didn’t get that many votes. So, I represent a good number of people who don’t speak up, and they don’t speak up because they’re afraid of being cancelled here in Franklin.”

Jackson said that Stanley should encourage those people to bring their issues to the Board.

“Oh, I absolutely will, and you’ll be hearing from them,” Stanley said.

It was board member Ed Potosnak, who as board president in 2015 came under fire from Stanley for speaking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the day of the High School graduation legalizing same-sex marriage, who delivered the harshest comments about Stanley.

Potosnak, who is gay, said at the 2015 graduation that the “historic civil rights decision” legalizing same-sex marriage “ was a decision “that is deeply personal for me, for my family, so today, your graduation is extra special to me.”

Stanley at the time called for Potosnak to resign as president because, she said, he “hijacked” the ceremony with his comments.

At the September 24 meeting, Potosnak recounted that event, saying it was “very disconcerting to me in a number of ways.”

“I’ll just say this very plainly; I learned that she was not only a bigot and a racist, and also homophobic, I also learned she has a warped sense of reality,” Potosnak said.

“We see a pattern over time, voting no on A-08 which is an anti-racism bill, we see a pattern in saying there’s no racism in Franklin,” Potosnak said. “It doesn’t surprise me that you feel the need to point our so-called hypocrisy among the Board because a person of color puts his name in and to you, being inclusive means grabbing on to the person of color and that’s the reason to choose them, and I think …”

“That’s not it at all,” Stanley said, interrupting Potosnak.

“Pat! Stop interrupting,” LaCorte said, raising her voice.

When Stanley again interrupted Potosnak, LaCorte said, “Pat, I’m not kidding, you have to stop interrupting.

“Well, he’s mischaracterizing something I said, I’m going to speak up,” Stanley said, her voice again rising.

“You had the opportunity to speak,” LaCorte said, matching Stanley decibel for decibel. “Your time is over, You’re interrupting, again and again and again. And every meeting you interrupt. Stop!”

Potosnak concluded by saying that he was proud of the board for including the anti-racism and anti-White supremacy language in its goals and in its policies, the purpose of which, he said, is to “set out to make Franklin more inclusive and be anti-racist, and to dismantle white supremacy because in doing that, we will create a world where there are more people who feel welcome and included.”

LaCorte took aim at Stanley’s claim that she out-polled other Board members in her election. Stanley had the advantage of being at the top of the ballot, LaCorte said.

LaCorte also disputed Stanley’s assertion that the Board was not transparent.

“You make a statement that seems like this board is not transparent, there are policies that are not transparent,” she said.

All policies are available on the web site before the meetings, LaCorte said.

“Everybody can go there and read” them, she said.

“This is the most transparent board I’ve ever been on … do not interrupt me …” LaCorte said as Stanley was moving for her microphone. “I’ve been on this board since 2006.”

“I really resent the fact that you’re making it seem that we’re doing something shady, or backroom deals, or something is political or whatever it is,” she said. “It’s not.”

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