What to Know
A principal is under fire after teachers said she texted a staffer a picture of a student teacher who's a little person with a "LOL" caption
Teachers at the New Jersey school sent the district a letter of concern about the text message last week
School officials said in a response that they are taking the incident "very seriously"
A New Jersey principal is under fire after teachers said she texted a staffer a picture of a student teacher who is a little person with the caption "LOL."
More than a hundred parents attended a school district meeting in South Orange Thursday to find out more about the allegations against Marshall Elementary School principal Bonita Samuels. It comes after teachers at the school sent the district a letter of concern about the text message last week.
"You don’t typically expect that from the leader of a school," said parent Chris Avila Hubschmann. "Especially one that really is proud of promoting an inclusive environment."
In the letter obtained by The Village Green, a news blog covering Maplewood and South Orange that first reported the unconfirmed contents of the text message, Samuels also laughed about the student teacher in the teacher's lounge after sending the message in December. They also said the incident was "the latest in a pattern of bullying that has plagued" the school since Samuels was named principal.
The letter writers also said that Samuels apologized to the staff in a meeting before winter break but never specifically mentioned the text message.
"It is impossible to forget the duress she has continually placed on fellow staff members and the insensitivity she displayed toward this student teacher who is someone's beautiful child," the teachers wrote.
At the outset of Thursday's meeting, South Orange-Maplewood School District Supt. Dr. Thomas Ficarra told parents that he couldn't comment on any specifics because state law prohibited him from discussing a personnel matter, according to Josh Kleinbaum, an editor for NBC Owned Television Stations and a parent of two children at the school.
Ficarra brought a lawyer representing the district to the meeting, and when parents asked questions, he often looked to her, standing still and silent while she shook her head, instructing him not to answer.
He never mentioned Samuels by name. That frustrated some parents, who about 30 minutes into the meeting shouted questions asking whether or not their children's school even had a principal right now.
Ficarra did not answer those questions. He said hypothetically, if action had been taken, it wouldn't become public until the minutes of next week's board meeting are released.
Some parents, however, are calling for Samuels to be fired if the allegations are true.
"It's just disappointing and distressing,” said Bruno Navarro.
School officials said in a response that they are taking the incident "very seriously."
"The Board and District take this incident quite seriously," The South Orange Maplewood School District said. "However, administrators and Board of Education members are not permitted to publicly discuss personnel matters, including what, if any, discipline a specific staff member receives for any action.”
Samuels has not responded to NBC 4 New York's requests for comment.