ROSELLE, NJ — The school board member who was dismissed during a combative, sometimes chaotic meeting attended by about 200 people has filed an appeal seeking immediate reinstatement.
Archange Antoine, an eight-year member and the longest-serving on the board, was removed by a 5-4 vote at the Aug. 27 meeting in the Abraham Clark High School Auditorium.
Daniel Antonelli, Antoine’s attorney, provided LocalSource with a copy of the 40-page appeal, dated Aug. 29, that was sent to the Department of Education commissioner.
The process of removing Antoine was set in motion at the Aug. 16 meeting when board President Patricia Fabrizio cited board policy No. 145, which states that a “member who fails to attend three consecutive regular meetings of the board without good cause may be removed from office.” She also cited statute NJSA 18A: 12-3, which allows for a removal based on three consecutive absences.
At the Aug. 16 meeting, board administrator Anthony Juskiewicz said Antoine had missed five consecutive meetings in the spring. Fabrizio said Antoine also missed meetings with the members of the board’s Personnel, Negotiations, Legislative and Finance committees.
According to Antoine, who serves as executive director of Faith in New Jersey and policy director for New jersey Clergy Coalition for Justice, said he had good cause for missing four of the meetings. On May 15, he was working at the Islamic Center of Passaic County; on May 24, Antoine, who is Haitian-American, was attending Haitian Flag Day; on June 11, he was working to gain support for a bill that would require every fatal police shooting in the state to be investigated by a special prosecutor; and on June 25 he was away attending a gun violence conference and visiting an immigration-detention center in California.
According to the appeal, Antoine did not violate policy No. 145 because he missed only one “regular” meeting.
Antonelli included a copy of the BOE’s regular meeting schedule approved in January.
“The actions of the board are shocking and disturbing,” Antonelli said in an Aug. 29 interview with LocalSource. “Their failure to follow their own policy on a board member’s removal means any member of the board at any time can be removed on a whim simply because they do not share in the same views as the majority.”
BOE attorney Allan Roth said Antoine has 20 days to file an appeal with the office of the commissioner.
Audience members, many of whom used the public comments portion of the meeting to praise Antoine’s commitment to Roselle, where he grew up, and the schools he has served, fell silent after the vote.
There was some applause as Antoine climbed down the stairs from the stage. As the board members grabbed their papers and went into executive session, Antoine was greeted by residents who shook his hand, patted him on the back and hugged him.
Members of the audience called out words of encouragement to Antoine throughout the meeting. During the public comment portion, they formed a line up the center aisle and talked about the work he does in the community and across the state in such areas as immigration and “social justice”.
“He has been a member of St. Matthew (Baptist Church) for almost 10 years and I am proud of him because he is a young man who loves the Lord,” Rev. David Ford said. “He’s passionate about giving his service and he understands what it means to be a Christian. And because of that, he tries to exemplify in his walk and in his talk.”
Others took the opportunity to criticize the board for everything from discord among members during meetings to the district’s teachers have been working without a contract for more than a year. A few seemed to reference the website Niche’s annual survey of New Jersey public school districts, which gave Roselle schools a grade of D.
A lot of their criticism was directed at Fabrizio.
At one point, Democratic council candidate Brandon Bernier suggested Fabrizio should be removed from the board and not Antoine.
Fabrizio, the only white member of the board, was told by board member Keyanna Jones at the Aug. 16 meeting that her “white privilege does not extend to this end of the table” after Fabrizio asked board members to put down their cell phones. She said Jones and Angela Alvey-Wimbush were on their phones and that phone use during meetings had been an ongoing issue at meetings. Jones said she was using her phone to Google information about a new teacher evaluation system being considered by the board. After the contentious discussion, Jones, Alvey-Wimbush and Antoine walked out of the meeting soon after.
After that meeting, Fabrizio said the “white privilege” comment was the latest episode of being “racially assaulted.” She said she filed a formal complaint regarding remarks by Jones and other members with Roth between March and May. She said no action had been taken on her complaints. Roth said he has not been able to act on Fabrizio’s complaint because the board has not picked a new affirmative action officer after the previous one, business administrator Jason Jones, was dismissed.
At a few points in the Aug. 27 meeting, Fabrizio said she was going to instruct the two police officers present to remove people calling out from the audience. When a woman walked up in front of the stage and was trying to speak while the meeting was being conducted, Fabrizio called for the police to remove her. Several audience members shouted their objections and the woman eventually returned to her seat.
Other audience members lashed out at Roth.
Before a vote could be taken on the removal of Antoine, Jones made a motion to have Roth “removed from the dais for not having a contract and for giving bad legal advice.
“Legally, Mr. Roth does not have a contract so he really does not have a standing even to be here,” she continued. “He does not have a real legal standing to place any complaints on anyone’s behalf. He doesn’t have a legal standing to give any real legal advice in this forum.”
Roth remained after Jones, Antoine, Alvey-Wimbush and Jonathan Davis voted for his removal and Fabrizio, vice president Donna Eleazer and board members Courtney Washington, Sherise Pollard and Richard Villeda voted for him to stay.
Roth explained during a Aug. 28 phone interview that a contract is not necessary since the board passed a resolution to hire him and there is a board-ratified outline of the terms and conditions of his appointment.
Before a vote could be taken on the removal of Antoine, Alvey Wimbush, Jones and Davis spoke in his favor. Jones said that people are afraid of Antoine because he isn’t afraid to speak the truth.
Washington and Eleazer, however, took Antoine to task for missing several meetings.
“You advocate for the community. That’s wonderful,” Eleazer said. “I applaud you for that. But, you’re not here working, doing what we need on this school board. We have parents, we have kids. You sit here and you listen to the public tell us off, call us names, but when they say all that, they’re talking about you, too. They’re talking about you because you’re a sitting board member, but unfortunately we all take our positions to heart.”
Antoine told the board members: “Don’t be shocked if there’s a recording out there of a certain individual saying that he plans to make sure I’m removed from this district and your name is on there.”
Alvey-Wimbush, Jones and Davis voted for Antoine to stay, the others voted for his removal.
Most of the audience left when the board went into executive session. Mayor Christine Dansereau remained. She called the decision to remove Antoine “a mistake.”
Antonelli said Antoine is “upset and disappointed.”
“However, he’s in good spirits and he can’t wait to get back to working for the good people of Roselle and doing the good things for the children of Roselle.”