Newburgh Schools suspend 4 staff, unclear if linked to racist post

CITY OF NEWBURGH − The final days of the school year continue to be hectic in Newburgh.

Late Tuesday night, the board voted to suspend four district employees, including a vice principal from Newburgh Free Academy.

Besides this deputy director – Katiana Simon – it is not known who else was suspended or why, and if any of the suspensions were related to controversy that rocked the neighborhood last week.

A group of school employees were under internal investigation last week, according to a statement released by the district to The Times Herald-Record on June 13. Newburgh community. The teacher made a joke in her post about a black student’s hair extension that was on the floor in her classroom, and she included a photo of the hair piece. Other staff members chimed in with offensive comments.

District officials said the message was “reasonably perceived as offensive and racially insensitive” to the black community in a double statement released by NFA Co-Directors and Acting Superintendent Ed Forgit.

Newburgh Acting Superintendent Ed Forgit speaks during a Newburgh School Board meeting on August 24, 2021. Kelly Marsh/For the Times Herald-Record

During last week’s long and emotional school board meeting, board attorney David Shaw said in a statement that the employees involved in the Facebook post had permanent status. Tenure employees cannot be terminated from their jobs unless district officials find “just cause,” according to state education law.

Shaw said the board will report its findings and decisions at the June 21 board meeting.

Parents keep pressure on school board

“…If we held teachers accountable for their misdeeds, we wouldn’t be here today,” Newburgh Parent Alliance member Sertaira Boyd told the school board on Tuesday.

The Alliance, made up of black parents of Newburgh students, was formally organized in May. They came together after police were dispatched to the home of a 7-year-old black student over concerns about his drawing in art class, despite a social worker’s determination that there was nothing to to fear.

The boy’s mother, Francella Palmer, confronted the school board on Tuesday, demanding to know what policy the school followed when the principal called the police. This was the second time she had asked the council for this information.

“What protocol is this? It’s not correct,” Palmer said. “…Are we sweeping this under the rug? Can someone tell me what’s going on here?”

Ray Harvey, NAACP local chapter president and Alliance member, asked the school board to respond to the group’s requests for how parents can get involved in district committees that help shape policy. .

He suggested district leaders invoke a grassroots political strategy to try to mend the district’s relationship with Newburgh families.

“When we talk about making the community whole again, let’s knock on doors,” he told the board. “Let’s talk to people. Let’s really engage with the community. Because we miss it.”

Lana Bellamy covers Newburgh for The Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Contact her at [email protected]