RARITAN TWP., NJ – Although the K-8 school district’s superintendent here resigned last week, a chorus of parents and former district administrators are pleading with the school board to have her removed from her role in the district immediately.
Dr. Maryrose Caulfield’s letter of resignation from the Flemington-Raritan School District “for the purpose of retirement” was revealed at the May 30 board meeting. Her critics claim she created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the schools, and many claimed fear of retribution for speaking out against her.
Last night, a tearful parent offered a glimpse into that intimidation.
District schools have been suffering a shortage of school nurses, which created a chance that some of the schools might not be staffed with a nurse some days this month. But as TAPinto first reported on Monday, nurses from Hunterdon Medical Center agreed to temporarily fill those vacancies, and the school board approved their hiring last night.
Kara Basedow read about the HMC nurses and thought that was good news, especially because she has a son who suffers from severe asthma, and “has been in an emergency situation in the past where I have had to take him” to the emergency room, she wrote in an email to the board on Monday.
But Basedow told the school board last night that she was concerned that the TAPinto article quoted Caulfield as writing in an email to another parent that, “nowhere in school law do we have to have one nurse in a building.”
Basedow was troubled that a school nurse scheduled to work could be absent because of illness or emergency, so she called the district office for more information. School board president Anna Fallon responded that the best person to contact would be Robert Hunter Elementary School Principal Dr. Kathleen Suchorsky.
Suchorsky responded to the email chain, stating, “I have promised the parent notification" should that happen, "allowing her to make a parental decision.”
But Caulfield was displeased, and wrote to Suchorsky that, “You were given directions and this is now insubordination. Do what you were directed to do.”
Mistakenly, that email was copied to Basedow.
“Dr. Caulfield, I am appalled,” Basedow said she responded. “How could you speak to Dr. Suchorsky with such disrespect?” Basedow said Caulfield’s response “embarrassed and threatened” the principal. “To now see that she is being reprimanded for making me feel comfortable, I am beyond words,” Basedow told the board.
“While you may feel any way you like about me I am sick of the misinformation that is being put out in the district about good people,” Caulfield responded in the email. “Your son will be taken care of specifically due to the efforts of people who have been maligned and while they are working above and beyond their normal work load. I appreciate your view at your end. It is unfortunately inaccurate.”
At the meeting, school board President Anna Fallon told Basedow, “I can’t get into details because it’s a personnel matter. But what I can tell you is that there was not inaction on the part of the board ... I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“It’s really time for her to be on an administrative leave,” Basedow said of Caulfield.
“I’m here again tonight to call for Dr. Caulfield to be placed on administrative leave immediately,” resident Sue Mitcheltree told the board. “She cannot be allowed to continue in her reign of intimidation and harassment against her district employees.
“This has been a pattern over and over ... call in our assistant superintendent to assume responsibility for administering the school district ... by appointing him acting superintendent.”
“Do the right thing and take action tonight,” Mitcheltree pleaded, to applause.
Parent Rachael Ladd read a detailed statement, and agreed that, “It is imperative” that Caulfield “be relieved of her duties immediately.” She also asked that Assistant Superintendent Dan Bland be named acting superintendent “to begin the healing process.”
Retired Robert Hunter and Barley Sheaf schools principal Becky Hutto told the board she could confirm that as principal, “I received disrespectful, intimidating phone calls and emails from Dr. Caulfield. I was written up for practices that I had always done.”
Hutto said she knows “damn well” that the discipline was meted to provoke her letter of resignation . "She should be removed immediately so that she can’t do any more damage," Hutto said.
Parent Wendy Kent said she signed a petition to have Caulfield removed.
“She has resigned, we should be moving on,” Kent said. But she added, “What I have seen and heard at these meetings is exactly what so many of you are angry about. The disrespect many of you have shown has been horrifying. You criticize Dr. Caulfield for not listening, for being rude. Frankly I feel that many of us in this room have been behaving just as she did ... Why is there so much hate?”
Kent also defended Fallon, who she said, “volunteers full-time as board president to help the district.”
More than 50 members of the public attended the meeting that began with a closed-door session that lasted from 7 until about 10:25 p.m. Fallon said the board interviewed a candidate for interim superintendent, and were joined by a teacher’s union rep, a PTO member and a student.
“We all collaboratively interviewed the candidate together,” Fallon said.
Board member Tim Bart said the cancelled June 7 community meeting with the board will be rescheduled.
Caulfield didn’t respond to an offer to comment on this article.