School Board Votes to Censure Former Member for Ethics Violations

In a recent Ridgewood School Board meeting, former school board member James Morgan faced censure for violating specific New Jersey statutes, an outcome supported by the Commissioner of Education. The decision came following allegations of Morgan’s public comments on litigation filed by another board member and failing to recuse himself. This meeting also included discussions on student academic performance and concerns about flooding affecting school fields.

James Morgan’s ethics violation took center stage. The board reviewed the events that led to this resolution, tracing it back to a complaint filed by Lori Weber on November 4, 2020. She accused Morgan of violating multiple provisions of the school ethics act.

After several meetings and investigations spanning from April 27, 2021, to February 25, 2022, the School Ethics Commission found Morgan in violation of various New Jersey statutes. These pertained to his comments about litigation initiated by a fellow board member and his failure to recuse himself during executive sessions discussing the litigation.

The Commissioner of Education concurred with the Commission’s recommendation for censure. The penalty, as outlined by New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:28-9.11D, mandates the reading of the censure resolution during the board’s public meeting and its subsequent posting and online publication for 30 days. A board vote on the matter saw the motion pass, albeit with some abstentions.

The below-par performance of many Ridgewood students in state standardized tests was also a focal point at the meeting. About one-third of the students scored below proficiency in math, and Ridgewood’s comparative rating with other Bergen County towns, especially considering scores of neighboring towns like Tenafly and Northern Valley, sparked concerns.

Lucy Fan, a local parent, raised questions about the high school’s policy of not allowing the valedictorian to speak at graduation and not disclosing students’ academic rankings. She argued that such practices diminish the value of academic accomplishments.

Another significant concern was the flooding impacting school fields. Discussions circled around the challenges posed by regular flooding, emphasizing the accumulation of water on the football field and suggesting potential exacerbation by a footbridge. Collaboration with the village, especially considering the expertise of the new village manager, Keith Kazmierk, was noted as a possible solution. The rising occurrence of severe storms and their impact on the fields underlined the urgency of finding solutions.

Further, resident Denise Fabiano championed the appointment of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) officer, pointing out Ridgewood’s low Black population and stressing the imperative of fostering a diverse community. The board seemed inclined to understand the current state of district inclusivity and hinted at setting up a recruitment and retention committee to bolster diversity in hiring.

Finally, on the operational front, concerns about the budgeting process’s transparency came to the fore, with Susan Madison flagging perceived discrepancies and emphasizing the need for annual school board elections.

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