HACKENSACK, NJ - Speaking on behalf of the City Council at an often emotionally charged public meeting, Mayor John Labrosse addressed controversial statements made by Board of Education trustee Frances Cogelja on Tuesday night. Mayor Labrosse said that he and the Council were “saddened” and “disappointed” by Cogelja’s comments regarding a state law mandating LGBTQ inclusion in school curriculum. According to Labrosse, while the Council does not condone Cogelja's comments, they accept the public apology she made at a board of education last week.
"As soon as we became aware of this situation, I reached out to Frances and encouraged her to publicly apologize for what she said, and she did apologize for her mistake and pledge to consider the impact of her words more carefully at last week's Board of Education meeting," said Labrosse. "I believe that Frances has learned from this situation about the need for everyone to be respectful of each other, and while we understand that some people may disagree, we personally accept her apology."
Early last week, For Hackensack’s Future, a political campaign group that supported three unsuccessful candidates in April’s school board election, circulated emails from Cogelja they had obtained through an Open Public Records Act request. The group also launched a petition calling for Cogelja’s resignation.
Cogelja said last week: “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.”
At the Council meeting, Labrosse also described a conversation he had with Board Trustee Ira Goodman, who was elected in April and is a member of the LGBTQ community.
"Shortly after these emails came to light I also called Ira Goodman, who is a new Board of Education trustee just elected in April who himself is a member of the LGBTQ community," said Labrosse. "I wanted Ira to know that we stood with him and supported him. The fact that Ira has forgiven Mrs. Cogelja speaks volumes, and I think his willingness to move forward together says a lot about his character and his desire to see our schools be improved."
The LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum Law, which passed last year and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in January, requires middle and high schools to teach students about political, economic and social contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, starting in the 2020-2021 school year.
In a tweet on Saturday, the governor said he was “proud to sign legislation requiring school districts to teach LGBTQ history” and that he believes what Cogelja said does not “represent our values of inclusion and understanding.”
In recent days, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) released statements condemning Cogelja, urging her to step down.
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, as well as County Executive Jim Tedesco and County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, have also criticized Cogelja’s comments.