An incident in which the principal of Marshall School allegedly sent a text message mocking a student teacher has the district’s teachers union at odds with the SOMA Black Parents Workshop.
On January 22, Rocio Lopez, President of the South Orange Maplewood Education Association (SOMEA), appeared before the Board of Education to say that she was “here tonight because whenever a member has an issue, I am hear to support those members.”
Following Lopez, Shira Lincoln, the Vice President of SOMEA and a Marshall School teacher, and Patrice Massung, a SOMEA rep and teacher at Marshall School, took to the microphone before the Board of Education.
“The staff would like to express our thoughts about the controversy surrounding the recent incident at our building,” said Lincoln. “As is to be expected, there is a swirl of misinformation being repeated. However, there is a fact that should not be disputed: The staff at Marshall does not have confidence in its principal. We agree with any and all calls for the facts to come to light as we believe in due process. Everyone is entitled to a fair and thorough investigation and we support any effort toward that goal.”
Massung added, “The staff at Marshall School continues to provide its students with a safe and nurturing environment. We love your children. We teach them to do what is right and stand before you today as an example to them to practice what you preach. We will continue to do what is in the best interest of our students. Thank you.”
See Lopez, Lincoln and Massung’s comments beginning at the 1:36:30 mark in the video here.
However, Walter Fields of the Black Parents Workshop had harsh words for the members of SOMEA that night and in a follow-up letter to Ms. Lopez which was subsequently sent to the media.
“I am writing as Chairman of the Black Parents Workshop to express our contempt for the manner in which SOMEA engaged in a concerted effort to smear and defame the character of an African-American administrator in the South Orange-Maplewood School District,” wrote Fields.
In the letter, Fields accused SOMEA of having a “singular focus on its own self-interest” over the interests of students, and of using a “regretful incident, for which Ms. Samuels took responsibility and apologized” to “settle a score.”
Fields likened the “frenzy” over the incident to the lynch mobs of the segregated South “when the baseless cry of ‘rape’ from the lips of a white female would cause the lynching of an innocent African-American man.” Fields called the public comments of January 22 “a spectacle” in which “Marshall teachers played the role of judge, jury and executioner.”
Read the full letter below.
Representatives of SOMEA did not respond to an email request for comment regarding Fields’ letter.
In January, a letter signed by approximately 30 staff members of Marshall School expressed “grave concerns” about Samuels’ actions regarding the incident.
In a letter dated January 18, the Little People of America asked for a public apology from the principal on behalf of the student teacher who is a person of small stature. The letter read in part: “We wanted to take the opportunity to express our disappointment of this action by someone who has the role of a leader and educator. As an advocacy organization for people with dwarfism, Little People of America has made it one of our charges to educate both children and adults about respectful ways to refer to people of short stature, in terms of language and general ways of showing respect to people with a difference.”
After meeting with concerned Marshall parents in January, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra released a letter that included “talking points'” to address young students’ concerns. The final two talking points read as follows: “Right now, we don’t have all the facts, but, we do know that anyone can make a mistake – even a big mistake” and “The important thing is that as a community we find a fair way to make it right for everyone who is involved and work together to make sure school is a safe place for you, and your classmates, and your teachers and other staff.”
Marshall School Assistant Principal Shannon Glander was named Acting Principal of Marshall School on January 23.
On February 3, the Board of Education voted to re-assign Marshall Principal Bonita Samuels as a “Principal on Special Assignment.” Village Green reached out to the district’s spokeswoman asking if Samuels’s new assignment was temporary or permanent, if she would be returning to Marshall School, and what projects she would undertake in the district as a Principal on Special Assignment. District spokeswoman Suzanne Turner replied, “We do not plan to make an announcement about this at this time.”