In response to an OPRA (Open Public Records Act Request), South Jersey Observer has learned that the Mt. Ephraim School District paid $3,100.04 in legal fees to defend Joan Greenwood for the Ethics Complaint that was filed against her.
The Mt. Ephraim School Board previously voted to approve the Parker, McCay law firm to defend Greenwood at a cost not to exceed $10,000.
The Ethics Complaint was filed in August, 2015 and it was dismissed by the School Ethics Commission (SEC) in December, 2015 for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted.
The New Jersey School Boards Association highlighted this case in its March 1 School Board Notes noting that Greenwood did not compromise the Board with her statement.
CNBNews.net is reporting that the Gloucester City Board of Education has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed against them for alleged Open Public Records Act (OPRA) violations.
On December 30, 2015, John Schmidt submitted an Open Public Records Act request to the Gloucester City School Board Custodian of Records, Margaret McDonnell. Schmidt requested six separate documents which included the minutes of the five most recently approved non-public (e.g. executive or closed) session of the School Board for which minutes are publicly disclosable either in full or in a redacted version. He received minutes of the Board’s Executive sessions held on August 11, September 3, October 8, November 4 and November 10, 2015.
Schmidt alleges that the August 11 minutes were redacted to conceal what would appear to be the name of an employee who was “arrested and charged with sexual assault.”
Furthermore, he alleges the minutes of the September 3 Executive Session were redacted to conceal what would appear to be a name of this same employee. He alleges the minutes of the November 10 Executive Session were redacted to conceal what would appear to the name of a Board member who “received a school ethics complaint.”
Schmidt alleges that Custodian McDonnell, or her agent, violated OPRA by not describing the nature of the redacted material in a manner, that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, enabled Schmidt to assess the applicability of the privilege or protection.
On February 25, Schmidt, who resides in Gloucester City, filed a lawsuit against the Gloucester City Board of Education and McDonnell alleging that the defendants violated the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by not describing the nature of the redacted material in a manner that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, enable the plaintiff to assess the applicability of the privilege or protection.
Schmidt is asking for a privilege log containing sufficient detail so that he and the court can assess the applicability of the claimed justifications for the redactions in the provided executive sessions minutes. If the privilege log does not resolve the controversy, Schmidt is asking the Records Custodian to submit unredacted versions of the provided executive session minutes to the Court for an in camera inspection.
He is asking the Court to disclose either unredacted or more narrowly redacted versions of the Executive Session minutes, with the extent of the disclosure being determined by the Court. He is also asking for court costs and demands judgement against plaintiffs
The defendants have until March 28, 2016, to show cause opposition. The Court date is scheduled for April 22, 2016, before Camden County Superior Court Judge Deborah Silverman Katz, in Superior Court, 101 S. Fifth Street, Camden.
During the March 8 Board of Education (BOE) meeting, School Superintendent, Joe Rafferty gave an update on the progress of the new middle school. He said: “Sometime in October, we will be able to go in and out of the building. In December, they should be complete with construction. We are looking that we will be in that building in January, 2017.”
The BOE went into Executive Session and voted on four matters when it reconvened. The motions were approved on roll call. Board member, Patrick Hagan was absent.
To approve that MEC-01-16 is not an HIB (Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying). All of the Board members voted yes except Robert Bennett, Sr., who abstained.
To approve that GHS-15-16-09 is an HIB and to accept the HIB findings. This motion carried unanimously.
To continue the suspension, but without pay, until the conclusion of the school year, of a Junior Senior High School staff member. All of the Board members voted yes, except Richard Dolson, who voted no.
To slide a secretary from the high school to Mary Ethel Costello. All of the Board members voted yes, except John Driscoll, who abstained.
All other business on the BOE’s agenda was approved, including:
A Resolution that authorized the architectural firm of Regan, Young, England, Butera, P.C. (Ryebread) to submit to the Department of Education the necessary documentation for “other capital project,” for which the BOE is not seeking State funding to replace 10 fan coil units at Cold Springs School at a total cost of approximately $536,040.
Board, Secretary Peg O’Donnell, was emailed for an estimated cost of the project and she responded: “The cost for RyeBread for their services: $67,390 and the actual cost of the units: $468,650.”
McDonnell also said that the project was identified as a capital project and that it has been budgeted for.
The BOE also voted to approve the repair and replacement of the high school scoreboard that was damaged during the recent windstorm. The Board approved a contract with Degler-Whiting, Inc. to replace the present scoreboard in the amount of $17,950, price to include delivery and installation. It was also recommended that the Board approve an extra contract to remove the damaged scoreboard and steel supporters and install new steel supporters in the amount of $13,500.
Before the vote to approve the repair and replacement, Peg McDonnell was asked by the Board if this was covered under insurance. McDonnell responded that it is being investigated by insurance and the district was assigned a claim number. She added that in addition to the scoreboard damage, NutriServe suffered a food loss of approximately $500 and also there were several servers that were damaged.
During the public portion of the meeting, two parents addressed the BOE amid concerns that their sons’ teacher may be changed or moved from their classroom.
The one parent stated that her son has been in a special class with the same teacher since the sixth grade. Over time, her son has grown to trust his teacher and feels very comfortable in school.
Previously, he did not want to go to school. She explained that her son has had an amazing turnaround. She credits his teacher, who can identify his triggers, and knows how to handle him. This results in less time away from classwork and less need for calls home. Because of this relationship already in place, there is no need to start over each year, she said.
Saying that kids on the autism spectrum don’t respond well to change, the parent stated that a set routine is needed. Her son’s teacher has given the class a stable environment, which makes them feel comfortable going to their other classes knowing they have a safe place to return to. The success of this class doesn’t mean they are cured. There will always be issues. The parent believes that moving this teacher will cause too many setbacks at a time where there is already too much change.
Another parent stated that her child is in the same class. She read a letter her son wrote stating that the class is family. Separating the class would be like separating family members and would only cripple their education. The letter asked for understanding of the impact that this program has had and also that “our family” has worked so hard and so long to improve. The letter stated: “I am not asking you to put us first and the rest of the school second.”
The parent said that the class is a small unique group of boys who needed something other than the traditional way of teaching.
The parents said that they are trying to maintain stability and would like to know of any changes that are coming.
Board President Ed Hubbs thanked them for their comments.
In other matters, the superintendent said that board member, Jackie Borger, is now a certified board member and thanked her for obtaining those credentials. Borger will be honored in early May.
Wayne Smith, of the Gloucester High School Alumni Association, announced that the annual alumni social will be on April 9th at the Brooklawn Legion Hall.
There was also discussion among the BOE that GHS had been randomly selected to participate in the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” project. This is an annual survey and is funded by the National Institutes of Health to track changes in attitudes, opinions, and behavior of American young people for the past 40 years.
The resulting research has been featured in publications such as Newsweek and Time.
GHS students in twelfth grade will be asked to complete a 45-minute questionnaire asking about school experiences, attitudes towards school and education, plans for the future, attitudes about using alcohol and drugs, work experiences and preferences, and health and leisure activities. There are no questions about sexual behavior or abortion.
Participation is voluntary and students may skip questions if they wish. GHS will be paid $500 for participating and will receive an Individualized School Report reflecting their students’ responses. Parents will receive a notification letter and students will have the opportunity to opt-out.
The BOE will meet next on Monday, March 21st at 7:00 p.m. for the 2016-17 budget submission.
*Article updated on March 23, 2016 to note that John Paff obtained narrowly redacted versions of the civil lawsuit. Paff updated his post by writing: “It looks as if there were two $50,000 settlements for a total of $100,000.”
School superintendent, Leslie Koller, was reached on March 23 for a comment and she stated: “We were notified by the insurance company of the settlement and we have no further comment beyond that.”
The Mt. Ephraim School District recently settled lawsuits involving two former students who claimed that school officials were “willfully indifferent” to harassment and physical assaults that they suffered at the hands of fellow students, reports John Paff on his blog, NJ Civil Settlements.
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Paff writes that the settlement was approved on November 2, 2015 by Camden County Superior Court Judge Louis R. Meloni.
The Complaint, dated November 30, 2012, states the alleged incidents began in 2008.
Paff had submitted a supplemental OPRA (Open Public Records Act Request) to the district seeking additional clarification on the settlement.