image_pdf
Renaissance principal
FILE PHOTO Renaissance Middle School.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Renaissance Principal Joseph Putrino has been replaced, at least temporarily, after coming under fire for showing a video during a Zoom staff meeting that some deemed to be racially insensitive. 

Major Jennings, vice principal at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, was named as Renaissance acting principal to replace Putrino during the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2.

“At today’s convocation, a completely unacceptable video was broadcast,” Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said at the BOE meeting. 

The video, Ponds said, is against the district’s values of diversity and equity, and that the matter is being handled internally by district administration. 

Officials would not comment further on Putrino’s current status with the district.

School officials said Putrino, who has been principal since 2018 and president of the Montclair Principals Association, presented a video during the virtual convocation for school staff and administration on Sept. 2. 

Although district officials would not comment on what video was shown or its content, staff members told Montclair Local that the video was of comedian Josh Pray, who is Black, doing a comedy routine in which he shouts loudly about the stresses of virtual learning and managing children at home. The video entitled “Appreciate Educators-Fathers Apology” and viewed 13,907 times, shows Pray apologizing and thanking teachers after the pandemic hit, and schools went to remote-learning only.  

Hillside School Principal Samanthaa Anglin, who is also now acting president of the Montclair Principals Association, said the association did not vet the video before it was aired. “The MPA membership did not vet, nor did it condone, the message that was conveyed under the umbrella of the MPA today,” Anglin said. “We are fully committed to Dr. Ponds and the Board of Education’s message.”

Officials said Ponds stopped the video after staff in attendance objected and raised concerns about its content. 

Shortly after the staff meeting, Ponds sent a letter of apology to staff and administrators. “I want to apologize for a video that was shown at the convocation this morning. Like many of you, I was offended by the content. Please know that this unfortunate incident is not a reflection of the inclusivity of our district and our ideals. We are handling this matter internally,” Ponds wrote.

The Montclair Branch of the NAACP also issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the Board of Education to take action. 

“The Montclair Branch of the NAACP is demanding immediate action by the Montclair Board of Education to address the racist and offensive video presented by Principal Joseph Putrino at today’s district Zoom Meeting. Principal Putrino has a history of complaints of racial insensitivity during his tenure as a leader in the Montclair School District,” the NAACP officials said in the statement. 

In 2019, Putrino and Glenfield School were served with a lawsuit after six Black staff members alleged that they were passed over for additional teaching opportunities in favor of white candidates. Putino was principal at Glenfield prior to being moved to Renaissance. 

The case is still pending in Essex County Superior Court. The most recent action, on Aug. 26, was a deficiency correction letter submitted by the school district’s legal team. 

NAACP President Albert Pelham said that although the organization appreciates the intervention taken by Ponds during the incident, the district needed to take immediate action “to remedy this situation.” 

Members of the public in attendance at the BOE meeting denounced the video as well. Kellia Sweatt, the chair of the Montclair chapter of the National Independent Black Parents Association, called the video “disturbing on multiple levels.” 

Ponds assured the public that “actions” would be taken. “We do not tolerate racism. I will not tolerate racism,” he added.

Board President Latifah Jannah said the BOE stands by its policies against racism, bias and inequity.