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Newark residents condemn school board president’s disparaging remark during public meeting

Newark school board president Josephine Garcia sits in the conference room where most board meetings are held.

Newark school board president Josephine Garcia, pictured here in a photo from 2018, made a disparaging comment during a public meeting Thursday that has angered some community members.

Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

Some community members are condemning a disparaging remark that the Newark school board president made during a public meeting Thursday.

“Here goes the bullshit,” Board President Josephine Garcia said during the virtual meeting. She made the comment just before members of the public were set to speak.

A clip of the remark quickly began circulating among advocates and parents of children in the Newark school system, which the board oversees. By Friday morning, the remark had generated an outraged blog post by a former board member, scores of comments on Facebook, and an online petition calling on Garcia to resign.

On Friday, Garcia posted a statement on Facebook apologizing for the comment, which she said “mistakenly went out over the air.”

“Please know that this comment was not directed toward, or a characterization of, any member of the public or the public participation process,” she wrote. “I have dedicated over two decades to public service and will continue to work with the community that I love on behalf of [its] children and families.”

The remark came after the board voted to appoint a new member to fill an open seat until the board’s annual election is held in April. The board chose the new member, Vereliz Santana, behind closed doors and did not publicly discuss her qualifications before Thursday’s vote, angering some community members. Garcia’s comment was seen as further evidence that board leaders do not welcome public input.

“That sentiment expresses how the board, under her leadership, views the democratic process,” wrote former board member Dr. Leah Z. Owens about Garcia’s remark. “For them, deliberation has no place in our public education system.”

The meeting was held over the livestreaming service Webex and played live on the district’s Facebook page. Typically, school board meeting videos remain on the district Facebook page for public viewing; however, the video of Thursday’s meeting was temporarily unavailable. By Friday afternoon, it was once again posted online.

The board has previously faced criticism for moves that critics say limit transparency and public participation in the policy-making process. The board proposed limiting the number of public speakers at meetings and threatened to permanently ban from board meetings people who display “disregard for the rules of decorum.” 

Jaz West-Romero, an education advocate whose children attend Newark district schools, posted a message on Facebook Friday demanding that the district respond to Garcia’s comment. She gave district officials until Monday afternoon to issue a statement and take disciplinary action against Garcia; otherwise, she said she will organize a protest.

“Parents, students, and anybody involved in the Newark Public School system deserve an apology and deserves an explanation as to why we were called bs last night,” she wrote.

Garcia’s comment can be heard at the 1:34:03 mark in the video.

Update: This story was updated to note that a video of the school board meeting was temporarily unavailable on the Newark Public Schools Facebook page, but was accessible by Friday afternoon.

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