PERTH AMBOY — Several sources said Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey was hospitalized in a mental institution in 2009 and despite several direct requests from this newspaper, she has neither directly confirmed nor denied the allegation.
A Star-Ledger editorial, being drafted to condemn the reporter who asked questions about Caffrey’s possible hospitalization based on tips from two independent sources, is expected to say she denied the report to friends at the state’s largest newspaper. The Star-Ledger editorial writer claims it would not be the public’s business to know if the administrator responsible for 11,000 children has a history of psychiatric illness.
Caffrey specifically refused to say if a psychiatrist gave her a clean bill of health following her treatment and she did not answer a direct question about whether school board members were informed about a psychiatric condition prior to her appointment as schools superintendent.
The administrator was reinstated as district superintendent by state Assistant Commissioner of Education Bari Erlichson after a majority of the Board of Education placed her on paid administrative leave for the third time. Caffrey was notified that her contract would not be renewed, but she has used influence with the Republican administration of Gov. Chris Christie to overturn choices made by the elected school board members who gave her the job in the first place.
An anti-teacher tenure organization financed by hedge fund billionaire David Tepper is expected to dispatch political operatives to Perth Amboy under order to help elect a slate of candidates that would enable Caffrey to keep her $177,000 job.
One current member of the Board of Education, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said he believed that Caffery was confined to a psychiatric facility in 2009. During her annual review, at least one school board member requested that Caffrey submit to a psychiatric screening as part of her performance evaluation.
Meanwhile, Caffrey suspended a teacher who recently returned to work by order of a school board vote after nearly a year on paid suspension. The teacher said the Caffrey blamed her for anonymous assertions on a website alleging the administrator was treated in a mental health facility.
“She suspended (me) again because of the assertions on an internet forum about her spending time in the Cuckoo’s Nest,” said the teacher. “She harassed and defamed me for a year now!”
An email message containing a series of questions about Caffery’s potential history as a mental patient was sent to the school board offices on Sept. 5, but it went unanswered.
Caffrey also failed to numerous return phone calls from a correspondent seeking an interview about the subject. On Sunday, the questions were presented to Caffrey in a message transmitted to her Facebook account, but once again she declined to answer directly.
A complaint was filed with the New Jersey Government Records Council charging that Caffrey violated the state’s Open Public Records Act by refusing to respond to the newspaper’s inquiries on Monday, and later that day the reporter working on the story was called by a Star-Ledger editorial board representative apparently assigned to smear Caffrey’s adversaries.
A local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers endorsed the school board incumbents who voted to fire Caffrey, Samuel Lebrault, Obdulia Gonzalez and Kenneth Puccio. The educators also endorsed Anton Massapust for an unexpired term on the panel, Billy Delgado for mayor, as well as Ana Mascenik and Jose Santos for city council.
Mayor Wilda Diaz has been strongly supporting Caffrey’s continued employment as superintendent, but she has also taken heat for supporting tuition vouchers and other education policies that mirror those of Republican Mitt Romney because many local residents believe those ideas would injure poor and middle-class students.
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