What happens when a New Jersey school board member makes blatantly racist comments on social media?
If you go by the actions of the Central Regional District Board of Education, not much.
Last week Central Regional board member Heather Koenig (full story here with images) put up three posts on Facebook. The first one features Leonardo DiCaprio holding up a glass of wine with the text reading, “BLM protesting for 3 whites guys and just like that…all lives matter.” The second is a screenshot of a TikTok showing a young Black man with text on it saying, “Who remembers last year when them yt ppl got mad and raided the capital like terrorists?” The third post shows retired U.S. Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter who was attacked by a grenade, and former NBA player Lamar Odom. The text over Carpenter reads “Took a grenade to save lives, no press during recovery.” The text over Odom reads “Took drugs at a whore house to get high, press updates every hour of his recovery.” Below the two is a sign that says “stop making stupid people famous.”
This incident was first reported by NJ Education Report after Central Regional parent Barry G. Kearney contacted us. The Patch reports on the community reaction at the Board meeting Monday night where, atypically, police were present, which some parents interpreted as a threat.
Yet they spoke up.
Willie Jacobs, an alumnus and current teacher in the district, said, “I feel like I can’t go back to work tomorrow What do I say to my daughter, my son, my students?”
Maya Joyner, a 2017 Central graduate, said, “Central Regional is being hateful for people of color. How am I supposed to support my school when it does nothing for people of color?”
Bahiyyah Abdullah, president of the Toms River chapter of the NAACP, said, “students can’t reach their full academic potential if they don’t feel safe and supported at their school” and urged the district to take disciplinary action against Koenig.
Pastor Donnie Clyburn of Pathway of Life Ministries of Toms River also urged disciplinary action against Koenig. “Obviously, I’m an African-American,” Clyburn said. “I may not understand every culture. But I know what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s not culture, that’s character.”
Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides had reassured parents on Facebook that the district would take some sort of action. He suggested forming a diversity committee that would include Abdullah and Clyburn.
Koenig herself had no comment. It’s unclear if she voted for the Board resolution below. In short, it references the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act and the School Board Code of Ethics, clarifying that one board member can’t speak for the full board and “disavow[ing]” any statement that would break the law.
RESOLUTION NO. 2022
RESOLUTION OF THE CENTRAL REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, COUNTY OF OCEAN, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RECOGNIZING THE REQUIREMENTS OF WORKPLACE DEMOCRACY ACT
WHEREAS, the Central Regional Board of Education (the “Board”) is a body politic of the State of New Jersey, and the governing body of the Central Regional School District; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Education is cognizant of its obligations under the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act (the “WDEA”) to, among other things, refrain from encouraging or discouraging an employee from joining, forming, or assisting an employee organization; and
WHEREAS, the Board discourages anyone from making any statements discouraging an employee from joining, forming or assisting an employee organization; and
WHEREAS, the Board’s carries out its duties and responsibilities pursuant to the Board’s bylaws and/or policies; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to the School Ethics Act and the Code of Ethics for School Board Members, the authority rests with the Board of Education as a whole, and therefore, no individual or member does or should be considered to speak for the Board; and
WHEREAS, the Board hereby reiterates its commitment to upholding the Code of Ethics for School Board Members as well as recognizing the obligations under the WDEA; and
WHEREAS, the Board further reiterates no one person can speak for the Board of Education and any official statements can be made by the Board of Education through the appropriate channels and consistent with Board policy and bylaws NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the Central Regional School District Board of Education that the Board disavows any statements posted or attributed by any individual that is contrary to the WDEA; and
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board is committed to meet its obligations under the applicable law including the WDEA, does not authorize or
condone any private action that may compromise the Board; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board reaffirms that the Board can only make official statements or take official action is pursuant to the policies, bylaws, and law applicable to the Board of Education.
I certify that the forgoing Resolution was duly adopted by the Board of Education at a meeting held on March 8, 2022, a quorum being present and voting in the majority.
Kevin O’Shea, Business Administrator/Board Secretary
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