NJ school superintendent suspended so district could lift mask mandate
An appreciation night at Tuesday's Manalapan-Englishtown Board of Education meeting turned into a "mob scene" of parents protesting masks, police being called and the retiring superintendent being suspended.
Board president Dotty Porcaro told New Jersey 101.5 that discussion of the district mask mandate turned ugly when Superintendent John Marciante said he would not go against Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order by lifting the mask requirements for the rest of the year.
"It was only due to heat," Porcaro told New Jersey 101.5.
Murphy during his coronavirus briefing on Monday said his executive order empowers school officials to relax masking during extreme weather conditions. Other districts facing complaints from parents have taken the opportunity to lift the mandate in their respective districts.
"Marciante stated he was not going to go against the executive order regarding masks. He proposed to the board the suggestion that in order to get around it we would have to put him on administrative leave," Porcaro said.
After voting to put Marciante on leave, the board passed a motion to make masks optional for students at the discretion of parents. Unvaccinated staff members will still be required to wear masks inside school buildings. Staff may go maskless if they provide proof of vaccination.
Porcaro said she had security personnel call police to the meeting because of the large crowd of parents who attended the meeting to discuss the results of a parental survey showing 67% wanted masks to be worn by students at the discretion of parents.
"It was a mob scene. Banging on doors. What upset me was that there was there were children at the meeting. It was a lot of screaming and hollering at us," Porcaro said. "It was very disheartening to me. And all the while I have to keep this meeting in order."
Porcaro said it was disappointing to see Marciante, who is retiring this year, put on leave after 14 years.
"He's always done what's best for the children," she said.
Assistant Superintendent Nicole Santora on Wednesday morning did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for more information. She has been appointed Marciante's successor.
The governor when asked specifically about the situation in the district repeated that the ability for a district to make a decision for extreme conditions has always been an option.
“You can make the decision you think you have to make. We’re asking districts to be responsible, do the right thing, make the decision based on the facts. They can have their own sets of what high heat looks like. It’s pretty clear that today is on that list. Let’s not get political about it. That’s the last thing we need right now. Let’s leave the politics out of it.”
Earlier in the briefing he said that discretion does not allow for complete removal of masks.
“We’re going to leave it to the judgement of the district, but what we’re not saying is that you can take your masks off forever and always."
New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said that Wednesday will be the last day of the current heat wave with temperatures in the 80s. Humidity decreases for the rest of the week. The final day of school in the district is June 22.