Second Middletown Teacher caught engaging in Democrat partisan activity during school hours this year
A photo of Monmouth County Democrat candidates for Surrogate and Freeholder speaking to a seminar of Middletown High School North freshmen and sophomore participants in the school’s honors Government, Law and Public Policy Program (GLP3) Pathway was posted on the campaign facebook page of Surrogate candidate Vincent Solomeno last Tuesday with the caption “Thrilled to join Matt Doherty and Sue Fulton for Monmouth County Freeholder 2016 and speak to students about county government at Middletown High School North. Get involved!”
None of the three candidates have any experience in county government.
The seminar was supervised by Patti May, a teacher who is a Democrat candidate for Borough Council in Eatontown. Monmouth County Democrat Chairman Vin Gopal held a fundraiser for the teacher at the Jumping Brook Country Club in June.
The facebook post was removed from the Democrat’s facebook campaign page on Wednesday after Freeholder Director Tom Arnone, a Republican running for reelection, called Principal Patricia Vari-Cartier, Ed D, to inquire as to why his opponents were campaigning in the school during an instruction period.
Arnone said that Van-Cartier passed him off to another administrator whose name he does not recall, who immediately offer him “equal time” which he declined. Arnone told MMM, “I speak to school children about county government all the time. I don’t think it is appropriate during the campaign season for an office holder who is running. This was obviously a campaign event, not an educational experience. We (he and his running mates, Deputy Freeholder Director Serena DiMaso, Sheriff Shaun Golden and Surrogate Rosemarie Peters) were not invited and would not have even known about it if not for the Democrats’ facebook post. If we showed up now it would be another campaign event. There are three Freeholders not running this year and many other officials we could send to speak about County Government, if that would serve the students.”
MMM has learned that the GLP3 Pathway includes a mandatory seminar series that is held eight times in the course of the school year. Guest speakers from the fields of law, criminal justice, government and public policy, etc. meet with students and share information about their careers and the roles they play in government, law and public policy. Students need to attend a minimum of seven out of the eight seminars.
One of those eight seminars was apparently wasted on a campaign appearance. The school’s administration apparently is willing to waste a second of the eight seminars on another campaign appearance, now that they have been caught engaging in prohibited partisan activity.
Middletown School Superintendent William George, Ed D, did not return three messages asking for an explanation of the event. Vari-Cartier, the High School principle, did not return our call. May, the teacher running for Council in Eatontown who supervised the seminar, did not respond to a message sent via twitter. Two Board of Education members did not return messages. The one school board member we did talk to said he/she was instructed by the Board’s Attorney that Board Members are not authorized to talk to the press and that all press inquiries should be referred to the Superintendent.
In a phone interview with Solomeno, the candidate said he did not know how the school appearance was arranged. “It was on my calendar,” he said. Solomeno said that the facebook post was removed “by the campaign.” In a follow up email, Solomeno said he was invited by a school administrator. He refused to address the facebook post on follow up.
Solomeno said he knows enough to teach honors students about county government and that he also talked about the American Legion Boys State program.
Monmouth County Democrat Chairman Vin Gopal refused to answer why the facebook post was removed. Gopal also declined to say whether there were any other Democrat volunteers, employees, interns, candidates or elected officials at the event.
In an emailed response to our inquiry Gopal said, “They (sic) candidates were specifically invited by a school administrator to discuss their experiences running for office with a government and politics class. They accepted the invitation and shared their experiences with a small group of students. Hopefully the Republican candidates go and also and share their experiences with the students.”
The Middletown Board of Education Policy Manual, which is posted online and searchable, specifically prohibits political activity on school premises during school hours and prohibits faculty members from participating in political activity during school hours.
The policy manual prohibits the distribution of photos of individual students without parental consent and authorizes the Superintendent or his designee to distribute group photos.
The policy manual states that the Superintendent shall be readily available to the media.
Tom Symanski, Executive Director of the Monmouth County GOP, issued the following statement in response to the Democrats campaigning at Middletown High School North and the facebook post:
“It is deeply troubling that the Monmouth County Democratic Surrogate candidate Vincent Solomeno published a picture of him and Freeholder Candidates Sue Fulton and Matt Doherty speaking to a room full of children at Middletown High School North. For Solomeno, Fulton and Doherty to publicly use students (whose parents have not given consent) as a political prop is deplorable and unethical, and speaks directly to their character.
“One of the responsibilities of the County Surrogate is to handle adoptions for minors. How can Mr. Solomeno be trusted to handle adoptions for children, when he so willingly and publicly invades their privacy?
“The Middletown Board of Education’s policy manual unambiguously prohibits political activity on school property and forbids teachers from engaging in such activity on school premises. And yet, somehow three partisan running mates, each of whom have no experience in County Government, were ostensibly invited to lecture high school students on that government, without the same opportunity being afforded to the experienced incumbents who they are running against.
“Furthermore, the Board’s policy manual prohibits the dissemination of individual students’ photographs without the consent of the parents and empowers group shots to be disseminated only by the Superintendent or his designee. We are hopeful that officials in the Township as well as the school system will quickly get to the bottom of this.
“As for Solomeno, Fulton and Doherty, we are confident that Monmouth County voters will register their disapproval on November 8th.”
This incident is the second time this year that a Middletown Board of Education faculty member has been exposed participating in partisan political activity during school hours. In April, Middletown High School South history teacher Joseph Ventre told the press that he was forced to resign after showing a video of the HBO John Oliver show critical of Donald Trump to a class. Ventre later rescinded his resignation.
Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger, a PhD and an adjunct professor at Monmouth University said, “Middletown taxpayers pay the Board of Education $140 million per year to teach our children to think for themselves, not to be indoctrinated by partisan ideologues from any side. This ongoing behavior is unacceptable. The Board of Education should hold those responsible accountable and assure parents and taxpayers that this is the last time that partisan political activity will take place in our schools.”