Four New Jersey high school science teachers have been suspended with pay after making homophobic comments about a colleague in the chat section of a Zoom class last month.
The names of the teachers, all employees of Dumont High School in Dumont, N.J., were not made public, although the school district’s business administrator, Kevin Cartotto, announced the suspensions during a public meeting at the high school last Thursday.
Cartotto said the district decided to hand out the suspensions following an investigation into the alleged comments, but had to continue to pay the teachers while they were out of school, due to state law prohibiting school boards from suspending teachers without pay, reports NorthJersey.com.
The teachers made the comments in the chat section of a Zoom class, calling out a fellow teacher for being a lesbian.
“Why is that kid with the gay gym teacher?” one asked, according to a screenshot of the chat captured by students and shared on social media.
“Is that her adopted kid? Who is gonna be all fucked up growing up watching 2 chicks kissing and calling them both mom,” wrote another teacher.
Dumont Mayor Andrew LaBruno called the remarks “disturbing and extremely appalling” in a Facebook post, and demanded that Superintendent Emanuele Triggiano launch an investigation after the screenshots of the chat were widely shared.
Matthew DeMarco, a former student at the high school, created a Change.org online petition calling on the teachers involved in the incident to resign. The petition received over 25,000 signatures.
DeMarco said he was prompted to make the comments public because the gym teacher who was the subject of the conversation was a favorite teacher of his when he attended Dumont High School from 2012 to 2014.
“My first impression on seeing this was I was appalled,” DeMarco said. “I had her when I was a student, and she was a safety net for many students. She showed compassion for her students and she showed she cared for her students.
“It was just seeing her being talked about like that by her colleagues, by high school teachers,” he added. “It’s unbelievable … I just don’t see it as acceptable.”
Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Garden State Equality, denounced the comments made by the suspended teacher.
The homophobic comments of educators during school classes is outrageous and underscores the fact that work surrounding lived equality is never over,” Fuscarino said.
Fuscarino told NorthJersey.com in an interview that he had spoken to the teacher who was the subject of the disparaging comments, but declined to elaborate on their conversation.
He said his organization had been in touch with district officials and has had “productive lines of communication” with officials about instituting mandatory sensitivity training and incorporating LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum into the classroom.
Jennifer Grom, a Dumont resident who teaches in another school district but has children enrolled in Dumont Public Schools, criticized the board of education for not denouncing the comments more firmly, as LaBruno did.
“The board is constantly on teachers to show concern for their students, and I think there were a lot of students in town, with the town becoming more diverse and more progressive, that were looking for their board to come out against that,” Grom said.
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