HACKENSACK, NJ - Several state and local officials believe that a Hackensack School Board Member should resign her seat after sparking controversy last week for saying she was disturbed by New Jersey’s new LGBT curriculum requirement.
On Saturday, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) released statements condemning Trustee Frances Cogelja, who publicly apologized for her remarks at a Board of Education meeting last week and said she’s learned from her mistake.
Johnson and Weinberg, in a joint statement, said, “Fostering a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students should be the objective for our teachers, administrators, and schools. Frances Cogelja must resign. State law requires curriculum to cover LGBTQ contributions and history be taught. If a Board of Education Trustee member finds that so repugnant, she shouldn’t be a Board trustee,” they also said.
Cogelja's emails were obtained through an Open Public Records Act request and circulated to several news outlets by For Hackensack’s Future, a political campaign group that supported three unsuccessful candidates in April's Board of Education election. 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.”
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker issued their own joint statement Monday, condemning Cogelja’s comments, saying they were “discriminatory, hurtful and simply do not represent New Jersey’s values.”
County Executive James Tedesco also criticized Cogelja, saying her remarks "are shameful and unacceptable."
The county executive said he believes the county's diversity is "one of our greatest strengths" and that "the thousands of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender help makes us all strong and help make all of our 70 communites stronger."
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.”