By ERIN ROLL
A group of parents and community advocates called for the removal of Interim Schools Superintendent Nathan Parker at the Jan. 22 Board of Education meeting, alleging he made racist remarks during a meeting of the Montclair NAACP Education Committee this past fall. The BOE meeting was adjourned by the board following a heated exchange between parents and board members.
June Raegner, listed as assistant secretary for the NAACP, who was present at the fall NAACP meeting where Parker’s comments were made, has accused the interim superintendent of saying he does not mind if a teacher is “racist,” as long as they keep their attitudes out of the classroom. The discussion reportedly centered around hiring practices. No meeting minutes have been made available and there are no recordings of the meeting.
The NAACP has not issued a statement concerning the alleged remarks. Albert Pelham, the organization’s president, told Montclair Local that a statement would likely be issued by Friday.
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.”
He continued, “I did not intend to cause more harm or open old wounds by my comments. I seek to be involved in healing past practices and improving our schools and will continue to work in that endeavor. I am sorry that my words may have been misinterpreted and I appreciate the opportunity to explain my intent.”
Diane Anglin, the NAACP’s new interim education chair, told the board that the NAACP was conducting its own investigation into the matter. The NAACP is expected to release a statement once it gathered all of the necessary information. James Harris was the chair of the education sub-committee at the time, and recently was placed on a six-month suspension after making anti-Semitic remarks at a community meeting.
“In all honesty, I was not made aware of the specifics of the statements that were made. The position of the NAACP, from Mr. Pelham, is that he is going to release a statement after gathering all of this information,” Anglin said.
Several members of the audience disputed Parker’s account of what transpired at the meeting, and called for him either to resign or to be removed as interim superintendent.
“We are a diverse community, and we expect better,” said Jennifer Perry. She said she found it “appalling” that someone at Parker’s educational level would make such statements.
Pluchet Alexander told Parker that she still wanted more answers from him regarding his remarks.
“I disagree with the characterization of your remarks,” Raegner told Parker. “In fact, they were so different than what I heard and many other people here heard, it’s insulting. I would suggest that anyone who speaks with you in the future, record their conversation. I’m so disappointed.”
She said he prefaced his remarks by saying they would be “controversial and unpopular.”
Most BOE members did not comment on Parker’s statement or the audience’s response. Board member Latifah Jannah said comments posted on social media relayed that she had been present at the meeting where Parker made his original statement, and that was not the case.
Board member Jessica de Koninck also criticized the threads on social media.
“A lot of people who were not at the meeting and did not hear what was said … have said all sorts of things about what might have been said and what might not have been said and drawn all sorts of conclusions and then want board members to comment on their conclusions, as if they were true. I’m done with it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of having our meetings turn into circuses,” she said.
When audience members began shouting, the meeting was adjourned.
An email sent to Parker this morning requesting a comment on last night’s meeting has remained unanswered.
Parker has been the interim superintendent since August following Kendra Johnson’s departure for a position in Maryland. The district announced last week that a search for a full-time permanent superintendent has begun. A job description seeking candidates has been posted.