Walter Fields of the Black Parents Workshop told the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on Monday that his organization would seek a court order to block the reassignment of Maplewood Middle School’s principal.
Fields, a Maplewood resident, criticized the BOE and blamed a “faction of the board” for taking “highly improper” action in its 4-3 rejection of Principal Dara Gronau’s resignation, against the recommendations of former interim Superintendent Thomas Ficarra, following impassioned pleas from parents and students speaking in favor of Gronau.
Gronau, who does not have tenure, was slated for reappointment at the board’s May 13 meeting — while also listed among staff members who were resigning, causing confusion among the community.
“The issue of transparency plagues this school district,” Fields said. “We have too often transacted school business in secret.”
Fields added that he hoped things would change for the better moving forward.
In his first Board of Education meeting as the new schools superintendent, Dr. Ronald Taylor publicly acknowledged Fields’s remarks but declined to comment directly on the allegations, citing potential litigation.
Fields is no stranger to the school district.
Last May, he filed a complaint with the state Department of Education School Ethics Commission against school board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, stemming from her behavior during a traffic stop the previous month. The commission ruled that Lawson-Muhammad had violated State ethics code and recommended a 6-month suspension. Fields also accused then-President Elizabeth Baker of ethics violations for her actions following the incident. She was cleared of all charges by the Ethics Commission.
In February 2018, the Black Parents Workshop filed a lawsuit against the South Orange-Maplewood School District, citing “violations of federal and state laws, including Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Article I, Paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution.”