Charges Filed Against School Board Member

Lacey School Board met virtually: Board members Kim Klaus, upper left box, Donna McAvoy, at right, Linda Downing, new Vice Board President Edward Scanlon, new Board President Frank Palino, School Board Secretary/Business Administrator Patrick DeGeorge and Superintendent Vanessa Clark. (Screenshot By Bob Vosseller)

  LACEY – Board of Education members began the new year with a rocky start due to charges being filed against a member and his family following a cancelled attempt at a reorganization meeting.

  The Board’s January 6 reorganization meeting was to feature the swearing in of the Board incumbent Harold “Skip” Peters and new member Salvatore Armato, both of whom won three-year-terms on the Board in November.

  That meeting was live but failed to continue after Armato, members of his family and friends attended and refused to don their masks. Governor Phil Murphy’s executive order calls for masks to be worn in school buildings by staff, students and visitors.

  That refusal led to meeting’s abrupt cancellation. It was rescheduled to a virtual session that took place the following week.

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  Mask wearing for students and staff has been a contentious issue in school districts across the state and no more so than in Lacey where parents have shown up at in the lecture hall of Lacey High School for meetings carrying signs and refusing to wear masks.

  During the rescheduled meeting some strong words were expressed about the need to follow the health protocols by the state.

  Peters welcomed Armato to the Board during the virtual reorganization session but said he was “disappointed at what took place. Not only were we unable to install our new Board president and vice president we were unable to establish committees and hold scheduled committee meetings this past week. These meetings are to discuss finance, facility and curriculum issues. As a side note everyone had family members in attendance.”

  Armato and Peters were sworn in during the virtual meeting. Within five minutes of being sworn in, Armato nominated himself to be board president. He only received one vote, his own. Frank Palino was nominated to fill the role of Board President. Palino won, receiving only one no vote, from Armato. Edward Scanlon was unanimously voted in as this year’s vice board president.

  Palino addressed issues of the aborted meeting and charges he filed saying, “Mr. Armato, I didn’t threaten you that night after the meeting. I promised you. I told you what I was going to do. I told you that night I would charge you, your wife and whoever else of your friends there weren’t wearing masks that caused us to cancel our meeting and I did.”

  “Armato your charges aren’t coming yet because they are held up at the (Ocean County) Prosecutor’s Office and there is a reason for that and I will discuss it with you afterwards. They are not criminal charges. They are disorderly person offenses. Yours, Mr. Armato, is a little worse than that. I am done with the antics at the meetings,” Palino said.

  “We have to conduct business. Twice now because of the antics of some parents – Mr. Armato you being one of them – we had to cancel our meetings. Mr. Armato you lost that cherished moment when your parents and your wife could have held that Bible and watch you being sworn in. You took that away from yourself and you took that away from Mr. Peters and his family,” the Board President added.

  Palino said that during each Board meeting, “if someone comes in and takes their mask off and refuses to put their mask on, we will cancel that meeting. I promise you if I identify you, I will charge you because I am tired of wasting my time and the school board members’ time because you are being selfish.”

  Palino is among three board members who expressed support for the idea of school districts themselves deciding on whether students and staff should have to wear masks during the ongoing pandemic.

  “Unfortunately, the governor made the decision to continue to make us wear masks during our Board meetings. I was disappointed about the health emergency being issued that extended the governor’s executive orders. Being a school board member means doing what is best for the children and not focusing on our own personal agendas,” Peters said.

  Board member Kim Klaus who also favors school districts determining the policy of whether or not to wear masks gave Armato some advice about “the power of policy. If you would like to make any change you need to look at the policies that we hold. You need four votes and that is where the change will come. One Board member can not make a change but obviously, the majority can.”

  “I voted against the mask mandate. I voted for choice. I will continue to advocate for that. I was hoping the governor would just let it go but he didn’t so we will still have to continue to fight behind the scenes which you don’t know about but will see it now. We will continue to work all the time Sal and I hope you will join in on that,” Klaus told Armato.

  Earlier in the session Armato told the Board that he felt he was not welcome and that there was a conspiracy to remove him from the Board. He said he heard this from someone who he did not identify.

  Klaus refuted that belief saying, “Sal, that’s not true. I don’t know where that is coming from but it’s not true.”

  She also addressed comments made by several residents who spoke during the meeting with concerns that a vaccination requirement would be imposed on students who participate in sports and athletic programs.

  “I believe that was just a (state) recommendation. It hasn’t come across us yet. There is no way I would vote for any of that being mandated. I feel most of the Board members feel the same. Put that aside for now,” Klaus said.

  Palino addressed that subject saying, “it may be happening in other districts but it is not happening here. I would definitely not be in favor of that. If the opportunity arises for masks to be optional – I am certainly for the option of students wearing masks in the classroom. If we are allowed to do that. I am all for that.”

  Senior Board member Linda Downing brought up some additional concerns. She thanked Board Attorney Bruce Padula for his concise presentation about Board ethics which is a state mandated session held during each school district’s reorganization meeting.

  “I will be calling you if I have permission from Mr. Palino because I have some questions about social media and things posted on social media by Board members that may be a little unethical and I feel our Board needs some clarification on that so it doesn’t happen again,” Downing said.

  She also wants to know where Armato heard about a conspiracy to remove him.

  “I’d love to know where you heard that from?” Downing asked. “Ever since that comment was made to you, it seems like all hell broke loose. I’d really like to sit down with you and see who told you that and why it was said. This Board will never be successful if we have inner fighting between us. Who is stirring the pot to make everything go sour?”

  Palino said, “I know Mr. Armato you are not going to believe this but I do welcome you. Like the other Board members said I don’t know where this conspiracy theory is coming from that we are trying to get rid of you. That is completely not true.”

  “It may look like it though because you haven’t been placed on a committee but I have some good reasons why I did what I did and I will be happy to speak with you at a different time. It isn’t to say you will be completely excluded for the whole year but we have some personal discussion to have to kind of smooth things over,” Palino added.

  Palino remarked that executive sessions may be longer than before and he was allowing for an extra half hour for the board’s agenda meeting and that Board members should go through him before communicating with the Board attorney.

  The Southern Ocean Times reached out to Armato regarding what occurred during the January 6 meeting, the issue of not being assigned to a committee, why he nominated himself to serve as Board President and for an update on the charges filed against him and his family. “Only the board president may speak to the press,” Armato responded.

Petition To Recall Palino

  A further issue is an online petition to recall Palino at Change.org seeking 500 signatures. As of January 19, the petition had over 300 signatures. It accuses Palino of using his position to “abuse his power politically and not listening to the voices of concerned parents and children of Lacey Township. We also feel ‘unsafe’ attending these BOE meetings due to him threatening parents legally who attend ‘maskless’ to voice questions and concerns regarding the safety of their children.”

  The petition adds that Palino pressed “criminal charges on four individuals/parents who attended the board meeting without masks (even without looking into if they had medical exemptions) which is not ethically okay!”

  The Southern Ocean Times reached out to Palino for comment concerning the petition and for an update concerning related issues brought up during the virtual meeting. At press time, he had not responded.