Around 100 Scotland Elementary School parents showed up at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to call for the dismissal of Principal Joanna Genovese, citing negligence to children’s safety in school and inappropriate behavior on social media.
“Joanna Genovese is unfit to lead,” said Rayda Krell of Wooster Heights Drive. “I ask that you take actions to remove her as the leader of a school with our youngest students. Ridgefield deserves better.”
Ten parents spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. School board members gave no response to the allegations — citing a new policy that restricts them from responding directly to complaints, and made no decision on Genovese’s as principal of Scotland.
Chairwoman Fran Walton told the room that personnel matters fell under the purview of the superintendent’s office, not the Board of Education.
When asked by parents whether the board would take action that evening, Acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Miller said Genovese’s current absence is due to medical leave, and has nothing to do with the current controversy.
“We respect the confidentiality of members that work for the district, and we are not at liberty to discuss confidential medical information pertaining to employees,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what’s taking place right now.”
Multiple parents brought up concerns over Genovese’s posts on her personal Facebook account, in which she reposted jokes and memes — images, videos, pieces of text copied and repurposed with slight variations — containing profanity and encouraging alcohol use.
“On Thursday, April 5, Ms. Genovese posted an e-card from a site called ‘Wititudes’ with the text, ‘How to be grown up at work: Replace ‘[expletive] you’ with ‘Ok, great.’ She tagged the elementary supervisor and the literacy coach at Scotland in the post,” said Tesa Baum, a resident of North Street, who warned the room that the words were vulgar and not her own.
Baum said her jaw dropped when she read the post, and she questioned whether the post was in reference to the school community.
“I understand that everyone may have a rough day at work and vent to friends, but a post made on social media, not in a private message, regarding feelings about a public workplace that involves the care and safety of children is absolutely inexcusable,” Baum said.
Scotland parents, donning red shirts as they previously had done at a board meeting May on 29, criticized Genovese for the number of assistants available to watch children at lunch and recess, something which they said put students at risk during the school day.
“I believe Ms. Genovese has fallen short of providing a safe environment on a regular basis in both the lunchroom, as well as the playground,” said Steve Gamelin of Round Lake Road. “As the principal of the school, she is ultimately responsible for adequate staffing of lunch and recess by paraprofessional employees to ensure our children’s safety.”
Larry Dunn, another parent, said he had “lost all faith” in Genovese.
“In a time when a ‘lockdown drill’ is as common as a ‘fire drill,’ we have to evaluate our leaders with great scrutiny,” said Dunn, who at one point choked back tears as he read his statement.
“Every morning, my wife and I put six innocent children on the bus — and four head off to Scotland. They mean the world to us, in every way. Every afternoon, we expect six innocent children to come home — enriched, enlightened, and better off at the end of the day than at the beginning.”
His words received a standing ovation from the Scotland parents.
Parents have been strongly opposed to a plan by Genovese to move several teachers from one grade to the next — essentially a reshuffling of staff.
In a previous statement, Miller said the changes would give teachers “a broader understanding of curriculum across grade levels.”
But parents also alleged that Genovese lied to parents when she met with them to discuss the teacher shuffle on June 22.
“Ms. Genovese ended the meeting abruptly, stating a need to attend a PPT [planning and placement team] meeting previously scheduled,” said parent James Steele. “This was an outright lie, as there was no PPT meeting on the calendar for that day.”
“Not taking swift and immediate action would set a precedent that our Code of Professional Responsibilities is not worth the paper it is written on, and send a disturbing signal to our other school communities of the caliber of school administrators we choose to employ,” Steele said.
Miller, who took over for former Superintendent Karen Baldwin in April, said that “if and when board policy is violated” an administrative team does a full investigation into “the allegation or situation, and we follow the intent of the Board of Education policy.”
He would not confirm whether an investigation into Genovese had been launched as of June 26.
“We treat the employee with respect and dignity through the process,” he said. “Just like with a medical claim we are not at liberty to discuss conversations we have with the employee.”
“We have been working as an administrative team to engage the community to improve communications within the school and the greater community. I personally thank all the parents for their commitment and their passion to make Scotland as great a school as it can be, and I welcome their feedback to the school administration, and thank them for being open and honest with their concerns.”