NEW NJER-TV VIDEO: Teachers and Parents Join Together To Advocate for Educational ChangeMarch 9, 2023
Perth Amboy Teachers, Students, and Parents Sound Off at School Board and SuperintendentMarch 10, 2023
This article was submitted by an Asbury Park staff member who wishes to remain anonymous. The piece discusses Asbury Park’s failure to provide students with disabilities with their mandated special education services; students feeling bullied by new Athletic Director Troy Bowers and the administration’s refusal to intervene; students being isolated through “administrative exclusion;” the exodus of staff due to maltreatment by district administrators; and the elimination of highly-prized programs.
Special Education Violations:
In April 2022, a Speech/Language Therapist was laid off through a “Reduction in Force.” The staff, parents, and the community attended the Board of Education meeting and begged the Board of Education not to approve the elimination of the Speech/Language therapist position and the other critical positions (Guidance Counselors, Social Worker, School Psychologist, Special Education Teacher). They begged administrators to reconsider and provided clear data to support the reality that the elimination of a speech therapist would be so damaging to students and that there would not be enough staff to support the student’s IEP mandated services and testing.
They did not receive a response from Superintendent Dr. Rashawn Adams. The Special Education administrators ignored their pleas.
In September the Special Education administration was again notified by all staff and administrators that there was not enough staff or time in the school day to provide the IEP mandated Speech and Occupational Therapy sessions, evaluate, case manage, etc. but again they were ignored. As time passed and the number of classified students increased, the Speech and OT sessions were regularly missed despite pleas from educators.
It was not until February 2023 that the district posted a part-time Speech Therapist position and the Board of Education approved the appointment of the very same Speech Therapist they had eliminated just a year ago. After all the help requested from staff, the teacher’s union, and parents, after all the hours and hours of lost Speech and OT sessions, children missed achieving their IEP goals and did not receive the services listed in their IEPs.
All of this could have been avoided.
Right now there are vacant positions for an occupational therapist and a Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant so services, evaluations, and identification of students with disabilities go unaddressed. Despite the fact that the Board of Education approved outside contractors to assist with the IEP mandated services in June 2022, the Asbury Park Special Services office would rather not call in any help. Instead, administrators spend their money on creating new administration positions (such as the new Athletic Director) or to pay $2, 500 for the Director of Special Services Bonnie Lau’s annual membership for the New Jersey Association of Pupil Services Administrators’ (NJAPSA)(November 17, 2022 BOE agenda)
At the February 23, 2023 Board of Education Meeting, a parent and a former staff member raised their concerns about the missed Speech and OT sessions and how this all could have been avoided. Now the district is drowning in compensatory hours and only recently advised the parents (via mail in English only) claiming that this was an “unforeseen circumstances.”
Nothing was unforeseen about this situation.
In the meantime, children continue to miss their Speech and OT sessions, continue to miss critical milestones in development, and continue to wait for Speech, OT, and Educational Evaluations because we don’t have enough staff.
Reports of Abusive Behavior by New Athletic Director
Also at the February 23, 2023 Board of Education Meeting, a student approached the microphone during public comment and advised the Board of Education members that he felt disrespected by the Athletic Director Troy Bowers, hired even though the district already has an Athletic Director, Mark Gerbino. The student stated that the Athletic Director approached him and made comments to him that included “go back to my one-bedroom apartment, you are a fake athlete, you are a fake basketball player.” He continued,
That’s not something you should be telling kids as a professional. I just want to speak out because it’s not just happening to me, it’s happening to other kids. I am not the first one this happened to, I am just the first one here standing up for myself.
Staff report they too have witnessed this disrespect directed at the children several times by Bowers and have not yet seen any investigation or change in the Athletic Directors’ demeanor. In fact, the administration has continued to focus their attention on sending a record number of students “out on administrative exclusion” to virtual courses with the option to “work from home” or have isolated the students to the library while the district claims to be educating and providing Medicaid reimbursable services.
At that February meeting, Dr. Adams went on a tirade addressing most of the public comment concerns with an excuse of “budget cuts” affecting special education (not possible since they continue to hire more administrators), but he failed in any way to acknowledge or address the students’ concerns about the Athletic Director. Dr. Adams raised his voice and went on a rant that upset staff, parents, and the community. “It is an embarrassment that this man is responsible for the education of our children,” a teacher noted, “when all he does is lie, threaten, and talk about himself. He scares the children and the staff have never felt so uncomfortable and unappreciated at work before.”
Students Demand Change
The Board of Education student representative approached the microphone despite the fact that she was told by high school principal Bridget O’Neill not to speak at that meeting and was paid a rather intimidating visit by the Superintendent alone the next morning. She started off saying “I’d like to thank all of the staff who supported me and gave me words of encouragement after the last Board meeting.” She also said, “I need to see a change before I leave this school district next year.” She discussed the resignation of a teacher, Maui McMillan, a science teacher at Asbury Park High School. “This teacher was my coach, instructor, and role model. I mention this because actions speak louder than words and when a staff member of the highest esteem resigns, you have to question what went wrong.”
Board of Education member Barbara Lesinski later publicly stated during the Board of Education meeting that Ms. McMillan resigned because she found a job closer to home. Staff members all know that Ms. McMillan resigned because of the current state of the High School and the fact that Ms. O’Neill treated Ms. McMillan and Ms. Sara Gogan (Allied Health) so terribly. Barbara Lesinski is again caught in lies.
Students also asked the Board of Education to not cancel the Law and Public Safety Academy. Again, Board Members and Mr. Adams publicly stated during the meeting that former Law and Public Safety instructor Ms. Velez had resigned because she moved. Simultaneously, Ms. Velez was typing her response on the Facebook Live feed via The Asbury Park Reporter Facebook page with comments that included “ Hi, former LPS teacher here. Out on long term disability. APSD owes me my paycheck minus sick days off due to surgery, money for curriculum I wrote and they illegally claimed I had resigned, rather than being on Long Term Disability. They are covering up fiscal mismanagement, toxic environments, noncompliance with federal and state educational mandates…the list continues. I wonder what the Board of Education and administrators have done with the Career and Technical Education Perkins grant money they received on our behalf?”