Parents in a New Jersey school district began calling for the resignation of an interim superintendent after the school board official allegedly said he doesn’t mind racist teachers. When the superintendent further offended residents by whitesplaining that he was not racist because his family employed black farmworkers, the school found a novel solution to the parents’ outrage:
They called the police.
In fall 2019, Montclair Public Schools’ interim superintendent Nathan Parker attended a meeting of the Montclair NAACP. According to Montclair Local, several attendees, and by his own admission, Parker took the time to address parental concerns that the district allowed racist teachers to continue to teach in the classroom.
Montclair Local reports:
Kellia Sweatt, representing the National Independent Black Parents’ Association, told the board at the Jan. 22 meeting where the parents asked for Parker’s resignation that: “Dr. Parker has already admitted to saying that he does not have a problem if a teacher is found to be racist, as long as it doesn’t disrupt instruction.” Sweatt called for Parker’s removal.
Parker, attending a second NAACP meeting on Dec. 5, said his remarks, which were intended to address the issue of bias, educational hiring practices and professional development, had been misinterpreted.
In a statement read during the Jan. 22 Board of Education meeting, Parker maintained that he was speaking about bias in the school environment.
“What I attempted to speak about was the inevitable presence of bias in the school environment and how it can be addressed and reduced through strong educational systems and hiring practices. I do not support or condone racism in any form. It is regrettable that my comments were heard to mean the opposite.”
Parker, who reportedly made the comments on at least two separate occasions, didn’t apologize for his comment. Instead, he apologized for how his comment was interpreted:
“I’ve been asked by our Board members to clarify an issue recently raised at several meetings and within the community,” Parker said. “My response was interpreted as supporting racism in teachers. I want to reiterate tonight that I, in no way, support racism in any form.”
Tap Into Montclair reports that Parker followed up his formal apology by explaining that “he felt comfortable around black people because he grew up on a dairy farm where his family employed four black families.”
Parker’s whitesplanation angered activists and parents even more, prompting widespread calls for his resignation. So when the Board of Education convened its February 19 meeting, they requested that Det. Pierre Falaise, the school resource officer, attend the meeting after three previous meetings were abruptly adjourned because of “escalating tensions.”
According to several parents and others interviewed for this article, this is the first time a uniformed police officer attended a Board meeting, ever. At least in the last 15 or more years, they state.
Residents maintain that police have never been involved, not even when there were nearly 200 passionate residents in attendance and public outcry when the Board was being accused of filing a FOIA request on activists protesting PARCC testing.
Kellia Sweatt, who has been attending the BOE meetings for over 15 years, stated, “This is the first time a uniformed police officer has ever attended a meeting, and was working.”
It did not go well.
As Sweatt dragged the entire school board, she was interrupted by an announcer to inform her that she was nearing the end of her three-minute time limit imposed upon all public speakers.
“I am not finished,” she replied. “I’ll let you know when I am done.”
The next speaker conceded that he would allow Sweatt to continue. But the BOE president stated that forwarding time was not allowed and the uniformed officer approached the podium (about 2:31:15 in linked video), told her to sit down immediately, followed her and stationed himself next to her for the remainder of the meeting .
“It is always stressful and fearful when you see a police officer approach a black woman, or any woman, cause you never know how these things may turn out,” Sweatt said, insisting that the tactic was meant to intimidate the parents.
“The Montclair Police Department strives to be a positive influence within all aspects of the community said Montclair Deputy Police Chief Wilhelm Young, adding: “When he approached Ms. Sweat, at the end of her speaking time, he was simply asking her if she or someone she spoke of needed police assistance.”
In a statement, the Montclair Board of Education stood by Parker and its police-calling, explaining:
In response to recent community concerns voiced about the Montclair school district and its practices, the Montclair Board of Education emphasizes that it does not condone racism in any form within our public schools. Montclair Public Schools are governed by Board Policy No. 0263.1, entitled Education Equity and Anti-Racism, which is available on the District’s website.
We expect this policy to be followed by every single staff member who works in the Montclair School District. The Montclair Board of Education is mindful of the public sentiment and concerns involving systemic bias, diversity in hiring, and equity...
The Board is required by law to maintain order and security at all public meetings. We respect the right of the public to speak at meetings during the public comment portion of the agenda...There was threatening behavior and language observed and overheard at our meetings and such behavior cannot be tolerated and does not represent the values of the community of Montclair.
Given the escalating tension in the discourse at the past several meetings, this Board made the difficult decision to invite the school resource officer, an employee of the Montclair School district through the Montclair Police Department, to attend our sessions. This was a painful decision that was not made lightly. It was not intended to stifle public opinion, but to create and maintain an environment where differing opinions could be presented and discussed respectfully.
Nathan Parker did not speak at the meeting, which is understandable...
The negro farmhands who made him feel comfortable were not in attendance.