Mom says school failed after ‘pennies’ incident
The mother of a Woodbridge Middle School student says the school failed to take appropriate action after a reported anti-Semitic incident aimed at her son.
Cathy Salomon-Geardino said that school officials seemed to focus on punishing a youngster who pelted her son Teddy, 11, with pennies in a gym class at the school and called him a Jew, rather than educating him about why it was wrong.
Moreover, she was upset that no one from the school’s administration called to notify her of the Dec. 15 incident, which she had to hear about from her son.
By contrast, Salomon-Geardino said, when Teddy was the target of another anti-Semitic incident while attending the Mawbey Street School, the elementary school’s principal called her immediately.
“The elementary school principal was outraged,” said Salomon-Geardino, who belongs to Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, where Teddy and his younger twin brothers attend religious school. “She told me the course of action she was taking, but that was not the case,” she said, with the Woodbridge Middle School’s principal, James Sullivan, or vice principal, Barbara Balog.
Following last month’s incident, the gym teacher immediately reported the incident and the perpetrator was given an in-school suspension the next day.
After a series of phone calls to the school, Salomon-Geardino was told Sullivan and Balog had talked to the mother of the alleged perpetrator, who said she would take her son to the library and have a discussion with him.
Salomon-Geardino said she believed the boy’s parents should be called in for a conference and that an educational assignment be given to him. The district has a state-mandated bullying policy in line with recommendations offered by the Anti-Defamation League. The policy defines harassment based on race, religion, or culture, but has no disciplinary guidelines.
She was further irritated when Teddy told her the school’s librarian, who is also its affirmative action officer, called both boys out of class and asked them to apologize to each other.
“She asked Teddy, ‘What did you do?’” Salomon-Geardino said she was told by her son. “Why should Teddy have to apologize when he didn’t do anything?”
That prompted her to contact Angela Korodan, an assistant superintendent of schools and the district’s affirmative action officer, who went to the school herself after hearing the story.
Because of school vacation, NJJN was unable to reach Korodan or schools superintendent Dr. John Crowe for comment. An attempt was also made to reach board of education president Brian Molnar via e-mail.
Salomon-Geardino said she then received an apologetic call from Sullivan for what Teddy went through and assurances the perpetrator would be suspended from school if it happened again.
Frustrated that the school still seemed focused on punishment rather the perpetrator’s “ignorance,” Salomon-Geardino demanded a letter of apology from the boy, which arrived by certified mail on Dec. 26. It only made her angrier.
“It said, ‘Sorry for calling you a Jew. It was the wrong thing to do. It won’t happen again,’” Salomon-Geardino said. “I have to assume nobody at the school read that letter before it went out. If they did they’re even stupider than I thought. I just can’t let it go this time.”
She called local press and the ADL to apprise them of the situation in the hope it would push the district to develop specific policies for handling such situations. Salomon-Geardino said she worries what effect the incidents will have on her son’s religious identity as he grows up.
“What if he doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore someday because of these incidents?” she asked.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County is also monitoring the situation.
“We decry such behavior and have come to expect an immediate response in Middlesex County,” said JCRC director Gabriela Sadote Sleppin. “We have been in touch with the ADL and have contacted the mother.
“Our purpose is to offer a support system in the community to any individual, group, or agency affected by anti-Semitism and bias, and, when appropriate, to take constructive action.”