PERTH AMBOY — Another Board of Education meeting brought another round of fireworks, as the belligerent Superintendent of Schools stirred up a new pot of trouble for the elected officials who have tried to fire her three times.
After Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey excluded certain religious holidays from the school calendar, she sent an email to principals asking them to identify teachers who are Jewish.
A motion to rescind Caffrey’s suspension was moved by William Ortiz, the board member elected in November with the aid of $45,000 in contributions from a Republican billionaire who wants to privatize public schools.
Maria Garcia, the former city Republican Party chair who was also elected in November, seconded the motion and it was supported by Mark Carvajal, Dianne Roman and Kenneth Puccio, a city police officer who voted in favor of three original resolutions to fire Caffrey.
Sources say Puccio was pressured by Mayor Wilda Diaz and police Chief Benjamin Ruiz into flipping his position — which was not announced before city voters gave him a second term — and prosecutors are believed to be looking into allegations that the school board member’s son was promised a job in exchange for his vote.
Puccio’s son is currently employed as a dispatcher with the city police department.
On the school calendar, Brian Adams, the attorney for the teachers’ union accused board members Carvajal and Puccio of violating the contract they signed as president and vice-president of the school board.
Although some of the teaching staff is Jewish, Caffrey cancelled holidays for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are considered high holy days in the religion.
Several emotional teachers spoke at the meeting expressed disgust for their employer’s action. One teacher made reference to the poem, “Then They Came For Me” and recalled losing her relatives in the Holocaust, adding that she thought the days of being singled out for being Jewish were over.
“I did not expect to get a letter asking how many Jewish teachers there are,” another teacher said. “The Superintendent said that there are lot of favorable comments about the school calendar, but that is because people were afraid to speak up. I feel strongly that I have been discriminated against.”
Despite these objections, the board approved Caffrey’s calendar by a 5-4 vote, with Israel Varela, Milady Tejeda, Anton Massopust and Obi Gonzalez dissenting.
In addition to making the inappropriate inquiries about the teaching staff, Caffrey placed one Jewish teacher on paid administrative leave less than a month after she reinstated by the Board of Education.
“I believe this shows she is antisemitic and that I was targeted because I am Jewish,” said the suspended teacher, whose identity is being kept confidential. “It’s quite inappropriate to ask teachers about their religion.”
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