HACKENSACK, NJ – A Hackensack School Board Member has issued an apology after arousing controversy for saying she was disturbed by New Jersey’s new LGBT curriculum requirement and that she believed it would be a waste of time in the classroom.
In several emails to Acting Superintendent Rosemary Marks, Trustee Frances Cogelja expressed her “disgust” over the state law mandating that significant contributions by LGBT persons be included in middle and high school curriculum by the 2020-21 school year.
She also referred to the law as “repugnant” and “incredibly distributing and frankly shocking,” adding that “everywhere I turn, this alternative lifestyle narrative is being shoved done [sic] our children’s throats.”
On Monday, Cogelja apologized for her remarks, saying, “As a mother of two children, one of whom is a seventh grade girl at the middle school, the intention of my email to Acting Superintendent Marks was to explore what my options were as it pertains to a curriculum topic that I feel would require for my husband and I to first discuss at home.”
“I understand now that my remarks can be seen in a different and more troubling light,” she said. “It was never my intention to disparage any person who has a different sexual orientation from my own.”
Cogelja also went on to say, “I am not a career politician, but rather a concerned mother who ran for office last year to improve Hackensack Public Schools. Moving forward, I will consider the impact of my words more carefully. I have learned from my mistake as well.”
The emails were obtained through an Open Public Records Act request by the publication OutInJersey and have prompted several community organizations to denounce Cogelja’s remarks.
Rev. Carolyn Davis of The WorkGroup, said “The fact that a sitting Board of Education member wants our schools to be noncompliant with state law, because of her personal feelings, says volumes to every student and staff member in our schools who belongs to an underrepresented group. It wasn’t that long ago that people were up in arms about Black History being taught in schools. Trustee Cogelja has proven she is incapable of serving all our students and staff and should apologize and step down immediately.”
For Hackensack’s Future, another community group, has launched a Change.org campaign calling for Cogelja’s resignation. As of Monday afternoon, the petition has collected 465 signatures towards its goal of 500.
The organization also said they were "deeply disturbed by Frances Cogelja’s homophobic and exclusionary emails" and that her "clear disdain for the LGBT community is offensive, not only to those individuals, but also their loved ones and allies."
"The new law is about ensuring proper representation in our curriculum and recognizing the positive contributions of members of the LGBT community to our society. There is nothing ‘disgusting’ or ‘shocking’ about celebrating our diverse history and recognizing underrepresented and marginalized group," the group said. "Everyone is entitled to a personal opinion, but when you attempt to use your position to circumvent state law, and further marginalize the LGBT members in our community, including our students and staff, one should reconsider if they are best equipped to serve all children in a community as diverse as Hackensack."