CHESTER— A promotional flyer nominating a member of the Chester K-8 Board of Education as part of a roundtable for a political club causes controversy with the school board which is supposed to be apolitical by state law.
The flyer promoted the 2022 Leo Jensen Scholarships as well as the County College of Morris and the Morris County Women’s Republican Club Education Issues and Panel Discussion on Thursday, September 22 at the Brookside Community Club. The evening was devoted to the “educational questions” of the Republican Club.
The panel was also expected to include State Senator Anthony M. Bucco, R-Morris and members of various conservative organizations, including Greg Quinlan of the Center for Garden State Families, Sherry Nardolillo of NJ Moms for Liberty – Morris County and Josh Aiken of Get up New Jersey. Barounis is promoted as John Barounis – Chester Township Board of Education.
The school board isn’t the only organization wanting to remove its name from the girls’ club flyer. The County College of Morris at Randolph released a statement on Thursday, September 15 asking to be removed from any promotional material about it, saying, “The college is not, nor has it ever been, a sponsor/supporter of the ‘event. CCM contacted MCWRC to have the college’s name removed from the flyer.
In the statement, the college reaffirmed its position as a non-partisan institution committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and, without hesitation, “upholds its mission to provide high quality education, cultural enrichment and workforce development for the whole community”.
Barounis, who grew up in Queens and is a small business owner, is in the first year of a three-year term on the nine-member school board.
State law prohibits identifying individuals as representing a school board unless that individual is expressly sanctioned by the board. The Chester School Board serves students in Chester Borough and Chester Township and consists of three schools, Bragg and Dickinson Elementary Schools and Black River Middle School.
The notice was issued by school attorney Josh Howlett of the firm Cleary, Giaccobe, Alfieri and Jacobs to Phyllis Florek, president of the Morris County Women’s Republican Club. Neither Florek nor Barounis could be immediately reached for comment.
Chester Schools Superintendent Christina Van Woert responded in an email Monday, September 19, that the board had no comment on the matter and asked to refer all questions to the school’s solicitors. The cease and desist letter was posted on the Chester School District website.
The issue was raised at the board meeting on Tuesday, September 13, when a flyer was released which identified Barounis as a speaker representing the board. The scene would have degenerated into a shouting match between Barounis and other members of the board of directors.
Barounis is not permitted to speak at the event as a board representative per the School Ethics Act.
According to the Friday, September 16 letter to Florek, “The board is a non-partisan entity, and the appearance of the ‘Chester Board of Education’ in such a manner gives the impression that the event is approved by the board, and may mislead members of the public.”
The lawyer’s letter stated that Barounis could not be identified as representing the Chester Board of Education unless expressly sanctioned by the board, which he was not. On Monday, September 19, the flyer was removed from the women’s club website.
Some of the panel members promoted for the event represent organizations of a political nature.
According to the website of the Morris County chapter of Moms for Liberty, this group is “dedicated to America’s survival by uniting, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government. “.
The Center for Garden State Families is a Christian organization. According to their website: “Our mission is to protect and promote faith, liberty, and the natural family in culture and public policy, as held by the traditional Christian worldview.”
The site, titled “MorrisCountyFirst.com”, was launched “to counter the influence of ultra-liberal ‘woke’ activists who are trying to drastically change school curricula without parental consent”, said committee chair Laura Ali at the time.
“Too many times we have seen militant members of the Board of Education with liberal-leaning political agendas use public education as a tool for political gain,” she added.