Members of the Newburgh Parent Alliance and other community stakeholders attended the Newburgh Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, June 14 to speak out to the board in frustration about racially insensitive language and negative comments before the previous weekend.
An art teacher at Newburgh Free Academy Main campus, identified as Nicole Mischo, had posted a picture to her Facebook that showed a picture of a student’s braided hair extension and compared it to a snake. Mischo’s post prompted several commentators who were reported to be employees of the district. A district statement from the co-principals at NFA Main was released on Sunday, June 12 and an assembly was to be held for the entire school on Monday, June 13.
Over the course of the first hour of the meeting, the Board of Education listened as comments came before them on the incident. NAACP President Ray Harvey of Newburgh expressed frustration referencing the incident that took place on Facebook and was not pleased with the district’s response on the website. “We need to look at the culture that is going on in the school district among the staff when it comes to these young Black kids,” Harvey said. “We got to do better.”
Parent Ashonti George read the comments from the Facebook posting by the teachers and other commentators to the board and those gathered in the audience. “I’m here because I’m tired. I’m tired of the template apologies. I’m tired of the ‘we don’t condone this behavior’,” said George.
Councilman Omari Shakur, who was in attendance for the meeting, told the parents in attendance that they need to be at every meeting for their children of the district and wanted reparations for the teacher that posted the insensitive post and message online. “I’m tired of looking at the problems, I want to look at solutions,” Shakur said. “Anybody that thinks our children is a joke, they in the wrong place.”
LaToya Byas, who moved to the City of Newburgh three years ago and bought her first home here, added additional comments. “I expected so much more from you guys. Education wise, disappointed. Professionalism, disappointed. Teachers, disappointed,” said Byas.
Board of Education Vice President Philip Howard also approached the podium and shared his collected thoughts on the recent events surrounding the school. “One thing that I am and will always be, I’m a Black man, born and raised in this City of Newburgh, close to 60 years. I’ve been through it all,” Howard said. “I’ve been through the schools, I’ve been a parent, I’ve been a taxpayer, I’ve been a board member. I must say the things that have happened recently to the community of color, Black people specifically is very troublesome and bothering.”
Returning from executive session, following the public comment period, School District Attorney David Shaw explained the current situation and legal process.
“An event that happened on Friday involved only tenured pedagogical personnel. Having tenure there are certain rights that attach to how the board might proceed to consider discipline against employees,” said Shaw. He added the superintendent is then the sole authority who can bring to the board of education potential charges of disciplinary action.
The board was expected to take up the matter again at Tuesday’s school board meeting on June 21.