Education

Montville Township Board of Education on Judge in Fennes Case: Remarks are “Defamatory and Entirely Out of Line”

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Montville Township Board of Education President Matthew Kayne reads a statement Credits: Melissa Benno
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Montville Township Board of Education President Matthew Kayne Credits: Melissa Benno
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MONTVILLE, NJ – Former William Mason Elementary School teacher Jason Fennes was sentenced in Morris County Superior Court to 14 years in state prison, and concurrently to seven years’ prison in Somerset County Superior Court in January. He had pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

TAPinto Montville covered new legislation introduced by state Assemblyman Jay Webber to try to stop future cases such as this from happening (read about the bill here), but the Montville Township Board of Education at its Feb. 7 meeting wanted their position known on the scathing censure Judge Robert B. Reed brought to his sentencing statement.

According to an article on NJ.com, during the sentencing of Fennes, Reed called Montville school officials’ conduct “only slightly less despicable than yours” whose silence made them “complicit and an accomplice.”

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Board President Matthew Kayne read the following statement:

“As was widely reported in the press, on Friday, January 27, 2017 Jason Fennes was sentenced by Judge Robert B. Reed in Superior Court in [Somerset] County. There is no doubt that Mr. Fennes’ actions were contemptible, and I strongly support his incarceration, as does the entire board.

“During the course of the sentencing, however, Judge Reed decided to comment on the Montville school officials, and in this regard his comments were uninformed and far off base, viewing 2010 actions through the prism of 2017 awareness of facts that were then unknown and incorrectly attributing to the Montville school officials knowledge which they simply did not have.

“Here, once again, are the actual facts.

“Mr. Fennes began his employment in Montville in September of 1998. In addition to teaching first grade, he was also a boys' and girls' track coach. He became tenured in 2001. When he was hired there was no indication of a problem in his prior district.

“In 2009, the board publicly withheld Mr. Fennes' increment. The basis for that action was a Letter of Reprimand by then Principal Dr. Adams that criticized Mr. Fennes for the way he conducted himself with students, including allowing them occasionally to sit on his lap. Even though there were no accusations of sexual contact, Montville employees had on at least two prior occasions contacted DYFS (now IAIU) regarding their concerns about Mr. Fennes. The second report to DYFS described the conduct that formed the basis for Mr. Fennes' increment withholding. After reviewing each report, DYFS determined that sexual abuse had not occurred, and took no action against Mr. Fennes. 

“In March of 2010, the board received an anonymous letter expressing concerns about Mr. Fennes that went beyond Dr. Adams' 2009 comments but still did not allege sexual contact. Upon receipt of that letter, another report was made to DYFS by a Montville employee describing in detail the various allegations against Mr. Fennes. Based on that letter and despite the prior conclusions by DYFS, Interim Superintendent Seipp acted swiftly and Mr. Fennes was suspended on March 12, 2010. There was then an extensive investigation conducted by the board. At this time, many parents came forward to support Mr. Fennes and others came forward to criticize him. However, the board was never informed, never discovered, and was never aware of any substantiated allegations of child abuse by Mr. Fennes. In fact, DYFS once again determined that the sexual abuse allegations were unfounded.  

“In 2010, neither school officials, nor the board, nor anyone else was aware of the information about Mr. Fennes that became available years later, and it is doubtful that the 2010 board had enough information to sustain tenure dismissal charges. Nonetheless, on May 14, 2010, Mr. Fennes, by then represented by legal counsel, agreed to resign. He signed an agreement, gave up his tenure rights, and resigned, effective June 30, 2010. He never actively worked again in the district following his March 12 suspension.

“It is very common for separation agreements to contain a provision which provides for limited information if a reference is sought. The Fennes Agreement had such a provision, but it never came into play because no reference was ever requested.

“Almost all of the legal issues in the civil case to which Montville is a party have already been resolved in Montville’s favor, and we are convinced that the remaining issues will be as well.  We asked the Supreme Court to hear those issues early – before the case is complete – and it declined to do so, as it usually does. This does not mean that the issues will not be heard at a later date; it only means they will not be heard out of order.

“If Judge Reed had taken the time to acquaint himself with Judge Rea’s decision dismissing all claims against the board, or even the Appellate Division decision reinstating certain limited reporting claims, subject to proofs which we are sure will never exist, he could not possibly have reached the conclusions which he apparently did. His comments directed at the Montville school officials were defamatory and entirely out of line.

“We have asked [Board Attorney Stephen] Edelstein to communicate with Judge Reed on this very topic.”

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