Parents in Middlesex County school district in New Jersey are calling for the resignation of assistant superintendent Paul Rafalowski
A New Jersey school official is being criticized after he hit out at a mother calling for in-person learning to return by sending her pictures of her family sledding with others without masks.
The parent had sent multiple messages to the Middlesex County school district about the failure to return to in-person learning, or even hybrid learning, after the holidays as was originally scheduled, according to NJ.com.
In response to her email on February 4, Paul Rafalowski, assistant superintendent of Middlesex Borough schools, said the reason for the postponement was because the community is not taking the coronavirus seriously – attaching two pictures of her family sledding outside without masks.
He accused the unidentified mother of being the ‘precise reason our school community remains in Phase 1 (virtual)’, according to the letter which was seen by NY Advance Media.
Parents in the district are infuriated and have called Rafalowski’s actions an invasion of privacy as they continue to push for their children to be allowed back to schools.
It resulted in the district’s most recent school board meeting last Tuesday being hit by an influx of complaints from angry parents, including a number from the parents of the other children pictured in the photograph.
Rafalowski sent this picture back to the unidentified mother (pictured center) and claimed that she was the ‘precise reason our school community remains in Phase 1 (virtual)’
Middlesex Mayor John Madden has also stated that the way the pictures were used was ‘very unacceptable and very unprofessional’.
In his email, Rafalowski had claimed that the parent in question was not following the same Centers for Disease Control guidelines she was pushing to reopen the district’s schools and he attempted to use the pictures as evidence.
‘For instance, we know that parents and students are not following the same CDC guidelines that you continue to share with us that detail the importance of social distancing and mask wearing,’ he wrote.
‘Case in point, we were provided a number of photos that illustrate the precise reason our school community remains in Phase 1 (virtual).
‘As you can see from the attached photos, you and four other adults appear in close proximity without a mask. Further, the second photo illustrates 16 children all in close proximity without mask,’ Rafalowski added.
He also referenced the local COVID-19 cases numbers in January as another explanation.
‘Bottom line, we will not subject our school community to the potential risk and exposure that results from the blatant failure to follow the same guidelines you are asking us to reference,’ Rafalowski concluded.
The pictures he attached showed the parent in question standing with four other mothers smiling for a photo and not wearing masks.
The second showed her child sledding with a group of other children after the recent snowfall.
The assistant superindendant also shared this photos with the mom of her maskless children
He had said that 16 children were pictured together without masks as he attacked her for complaining that the district’s schools had not returned to at least hybrid learning
‘He targeted an outspoken parent by sending her photos of her and kids outside while sledding during the snowstorm,’ the mother told Patch.
Rafalowski’s email fired up local parents up as they hit back that the children were doing nothing wrong in sledding on private property with their friends.
‘My son is one of the 16 pictured. He is 7 years old. He was outside. Snow sledding. With some friends. On private property,’ Roger Sanchez said in an email to the school board and borough council.
‘It was worrisome to see my son’s image used that way, to say the least.’
‘My breath was taken away. I hope a parent never has to feel how I felt,’ Sanchez added to New Jersey Patch.
‘The kids were running around, out playing in the snow outdoors. They posed for a photo. The point is a government body should never be allowed to document the lives of private citizens and their children.’
Another parent, Robby McQuone, told Patch that he believed the school board was ‘very unprofessional and out of line sending pictures of our kids to another parent’.
‘My children were in the photo. My wife and I are very upset over this matter,’ he said.
Sanchez believes parents who have remained vocal about the need to reopen schools are the ones being targeted, as all the parents of the children photographed in that picture have been publicly speaking at Middlesex Board of Education meetings for weeks.
‘This is how Dr. Williams and Rafalowski deal with a very vocal group of parents. They deal with them by sending them threatening photos of their kids,’ he said.
‘Parents have been testifying, saying “my children are punching a wall; my son can’t read.” Parents are literally crying.
‘All we’re doing is looking for help for our children. And this is his response. He even referenced the album the Facebook photos were taken from,’ said Sanchez. ‘
Almost as if to say “Shut up. We are watching you”.’
District Superintendent Frederick Williams admitted to NJ Media on Wednesday that Rafalowski’s email had been in response to a mother who had been extremely vocal about returning to school but still defended the assistant superintendent’s actions.
‘This (email) was about, “Let’s wear face coverings. Let’s reduce the spread”. None of my administrators target children or retaliate,’ Williams claimed, stating that he and Rafalowski did not know the names of the children in the pictures and that their faces were blurred before they were sent in the email to the parent.
Rafalowski’s email had claimed that the photos had originally been ‘provided’ to district administrators by someone voicing concern after they were posted on social media.
However, frustrated parents continued to call for the resignation of school board members at last Tuesday’s borough council meeting.
Their calls were joined by Middlesex borough Councilman Jeremiah Carnes who has said Rafalowski must apologize or resign immediately.
Middlesex County Superintendent Dr. Fred Williams has said in-person instruction may resume on March 1, if community virus numbers continue downward
‘It’s just plain inexcusable how I’ve seen our residents treated by some members of the Board of Ed.,’ Carnes told Patch.
‘Our children should be back in school and have the ability to freely play outside without judgement.’
‘I feel very bad for the parents. They’re very passionate about their kids getting back to school and I understand they are reaching out in frustration,’ Mayor Madden said.
Yet he claimed that the school board remains independent of him and the borough council and there ‘isn’t any action we can take’.
Middlesex Borough was supposed to return to hybrid learning in January, after offering it for a few weeks in November but returning to 100 percent virtual learning over the holidays.
Superintendent William has claimed that the administrators, teachers and staff all want to return to in person learning as soon as possible.
‘We want our children back in school. We don’t want them to be home all the time,’ Williams said.
‘It’s not the same environment and the current environment is becoming extremely stressful for everyone.’
Williams has said in-person instruction may resume on March 1, if community virus numbers continue downward.
There were 152 new cases of coronavirus Middlesex County on Sunday.
There have been 64,120 confirmed cases in total and more than 1,800 confirmed deaths.
Middlesex County has had only one confirmed outbreak at a school and three linked cases.
In the state of New Jersey, there have been 142 school outbreaks and 671 cases linked to schools.