MONTCLAIR, NJ - During the Montclair Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, longtime member Anne Mernin resigned her position, she announced.
She thanked the community for the opportunity to serve and the support they have given her.
After fellow Board members gave her glowing remarks and expressed their sadness for her decision to depart, Mernin was given a standing ovation from her colleagues. During the remarks, fellow Board member Jessica de Koninck was moved to tears.
Also during their commentary, fellow Board members expressed disappointment in certain members of the public who may have sparked rumors and spoke highly of Mernin's commitment to the community and to others in need.
For several months, rumors circulated in the community, via email and on social media questioning Mernin's residency, as according to her, she and her family have resided with her mother for nearly two years. There were also mentions of her child's out-of district placement. However, the Board has never commented publicly or confirmed any of the assertions.
de Koninck told the audience, "Anne is the most selfless person, I think I've ever met. She lets all kinds of stuff roll off her back and...what happened to her is disgraceful."
The assertions have never been confirmed or denied or substantial evidence presented. However, during the meeting, Board members expressed their disapproval for what they describe as behaviors of community members. They also took the opportunity to praise Mernin for all of the work that Mernin does in the community with her position at Toni's Kitchen.
A lifelong resident of Montclair, Mernin has devoted much of her life and efforts to public service. Prior to sitting on the BOE, Mernin had also served as PTA President of Bullock School (2011-2012), PTA Council member, and SEPAC liaison.
According to her bio, she is a graduate of the University of Virginia and holds a teaching certificate from Bloomfield College. Prior to taking the helm at Toni's Kitchen, she has served as V.P., Project Management Office, Societe Generale, Management Consultant for Coopers & Lybrand and V.P., Citicorp Investment Bank.
de Koninck continued, "We're looking for a Superintendent, who the heck is gonna[sic] want to come here when this kind of stuff goes on? I sure wouldn't." She ended her statement choking back tears.
Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker thanked Mernin saying, "I just want to express my appreciation...I've developed a strong attachment to you. Your thoughtfulness, your intelligence, your ability to see things in unique ways...no disrespect to anyone else on the Board, but you bring a special perspective to decision-making..."
He added, "Hopefully it will be a learning experience to the larger community for what's happening with you, that could transfer to other people. I just want to say thank you and Godspeed."
Mernin currently serves as Executive Director of Toni's Kitchen located at St. Luke's. Through Toni's Kitchen, Mernin also now coordinates the Bounce festival which has a mission of bringing together the community in ways that focus' on core principles of the following: Connect With Community; Act With Empathy; Confront Your Fears; Learn Something New; Care For Yourself; and Practice Altruism.
In her remarks, Board President Eve Robinson highlighted the work that Mernin does for Toni's Kitchen saying, "I do want to say to those in the community that chose to behave in this way towards you, I know you would still welcome them, the way you welcome everyone else to come and have a meal and I think people really need to understand that. That you welcome this entire community to have a meal. You don't just welcome somebody because they fit an income profile or because they have nowhere to live, you welcome everyone to have a meal and to share in the bounty of what your organization offers."
She continued by informing the audience of her recent professional development course that addressed trauma. Robinson then spoke of learning about the 'pyramid of hate', saying, "... it really struck me as what's going on right now. The pyramid starts at the bottom with what is called prejudiced attitudes ...and we have to look at these attitudes square in the face and see that accepting stereotypes and not challenging people who use stereotypes, is how we go up this pyramid of hate."
She continued, "Because once we have those attitudes go unchallenged, then we start to engage in acts of prejudice and it starts to become accepted that you can behave in that way. This is a town that wants to address those things head-on, this is a town that needs to address those things head-on, but you were and are an exemplary person in stepping-up and saying yes, you wanted to do that."
Robinson continued, "The actions that you've taken....has always spoken to eradicating that type of prejudicial attitudes towards all kinds of people and certainly those who are less able to help themselves, the ones who are often overlooked, the ones who are often marginalized."
Robinson added, "So, I thank you for everything that you do...this is a very sad day."
She went further to communicate a message that she's not fearful and encouraged Mernin not to be fearful, either.
"I am not afraid. There are people out there that want us to be scared, they want us to be apart from each other. They want us to dehumanize each other. I will not do that. I will not engage in that and I am not afraid if you want to try to do that to me. ...and I want to say to Anne, you too, do not be afraid, you deserve better," Robinson concluded.
At the conclusion of Robinson's remarks, Mernin was given a standing ovation.
The next Montclair Board of Education Meeting will take place on January 22, 2020.