Newly elected school board members, due to begin in January, include a North Jersey parent who won a seat by just 8 written votes – weeks after he criticized a transgender elementary school teacher.
After starting a grassroots initiative in November, Michael Coletta won a three-year seat on the Haledon Board of Education.
Coletta first caused a stir during a September school board meeting when he publicly announced that his child would not be attending the transgender music teacher’s classes at the district’s only elementary school from elementary through 8th grade.
He called the September 12 meeting and gave the board several reports from families that the teacher in question had told the students, in relation to gender, “You can choose whatever you want.”
“I personally have a problem with that, I don’t agree with that, I don’t think it’s scientific,” Coletta said.
He went on to say that “everyone has the right to earn a living,” but he wanted to know what the school would be like in terms of what the teacher is telling young elementary school students.
Coletta also asked how it would be different if a teacher “spoke out” about their religious beliefs during class – such as a Catholic teacher criticizing a Muslim student or speaking out against abortion during class.
“There should be a separation of these things from school – yes he has rights, but as a parent and father I have rights and my child has rights. And it’s not fair that we prefer one over the other – one person over how many people who will be offended,” Coletta said.
The Haledon Public School District serves nearly 1,000 preschool through 8th grade students in Passaic County.
Weeks later, Coletta sent a message to local families via the Messenger app, NorthJersey.com reported, in which she said, in part, “I’m trying to give a voice to concerned parents who are unhappy with our school’s over-sexualization .”
Board members Liesl Fores-Iza (802 votes) and Rafael Martínez (855 votes) were both re-elected to full three-year terms, while the Haledon vote left room for a third nominee, who remained empty.
That seat went to Coletta, who received 52 out of 189 registered votes, eight more than Jimmy Iza, the next runner-up.
Variations on the two men’s names received several more inscribed voices altogether.
Omar Abbassi ran unopposed, winning a two-year unexpired term on the school board by 772 votes. Brian Zinn also ran unopposed and is returning for a one-year unexpired term, receiving 709 votes
For Haledon, turnout was just over a third of the borough’s registered voters, as fewer than 117,000 ballots were cast.
More “newcomers” to the school board?
Statewide, 2,151 candidates vied for 1,569 vacant school board seats in the November elections that year, according to an analysis of district clerk data by the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Of those candidates, 905 were incumbents — a 5% decrease as a percentage of all candidates in the 2021 school board election — 42% this year versus 47% last year.
Last year, a total of 2,174 candidates applied for 1,594 Education Council posts.
According to the same NJSBA analysis, this year’s ratio of candidates per open seat increased slightly to 1.37 candidates per available position. This was compared to the 2021 ratio of 1.36 candidates per seat.
NJ teachers and educators trapped in sex crime busts
In recent years, state legislatures have faced the challenge of dealing with accused child molesters in the ranks of teachers and educators.
The following people have been arrested in recent years. Some have been found guilty and sentenced to prison terms, while others have accepted plea bargains.
Other cases are still pending, including some court delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic.