SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The aftershocks surrounding a controversial social media comment made by a sitting member of the South Plainfield Board of Education (SPBOE) are still being felt with residents seeking recourse making their voices heard at the second in-person public meeting in as many weeks.
"At last week's COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting, the board was made aware of an online post by Mrs. [Debbie] Boyle that referenced a minor and allegedly disparaged her even though it did not identify [her] by name. Apparently, it was clear to all about who she was referring to," stated SPBOE President Doug Chapman during a Feb. 17 meeting, referencing an issue first presented during the prior week's session.
Chapman went on to state that "the board does not condone this action.' "I can confidently say, on behalf of the board, that the goal of every board member is to put children first and ensure that the district provides the students, staff, and community with everything it needs to be successful in their educational endeavors when in the district and beyond.'
"Board members must hold themselves to a higher standard in the community and refrain from making comments or referencing others in a disparaging way, particularly in public forums such as social media," continued Chapman, adding, "This holds true even more when these comments involve minors whether the student is in the district or not. It is disappointing that we reached this point; the actions of a board member have distracted the board's mission."
The SPBOE president's statement was made in the wake of an issue that arose at the Feb. 10 COW meeting. At this time, residents Kristine Carbonaro and her daughters Alexys and Jessica Craggan presented to the board concerns about a comment SPBOE member Debbie Boyle allegedly made on social media. Although no names were used in the Jan. 22 Facebook post, Carbonaro and the Craggans stated that Boyle's comment, 'Wait, #TikTokFMeonTheInsideOfALip,' was a direct reference to a TikTok video Alexys posted about her recent lip tattoo.
"This woman went on my 17-year-old sister's TikTok [account], watched her video, and publicly shamed her about her tattoo," Jessica told the SPBOE during the Feb. 10 meeting. "This is childish behavior coming from an important person on the South Plainfield Board of Education."
At that time, Boyle neither apologized nor denied making the comment, stating 'no student's name was never mentioned.' However, at last week's meeting, the SPBOE member issued the following apology: "Last week at the COW meeting, a Facebook comment I wrote was brought up during the public comment portion of the meeting. I should have apologized…but as you can imagine I was completely taken off guard by what was going on. I am making this statement to apologize for any misconceptions, negative reactions, or hurt feelings that were felt by Alexys and her family. Thank you."
The name of the resident who made the initial Facebook post was neither divulged at the COW meeting nor in TAPinto South Plainfield's published account (https://www.tapinto.net/towns/south-plainfield/articles/south-plainfield-boe-member-blasted-for-social-media-comment). However, following Boyle's apology at the Feb. 17 meeting, resident Lisa Manz took to the podium, extending her 'heartfelt and sincerest sympathy' to 'the young lady who bravely got up to speak in the absence of her parents…about how she felt [and] was made to believe a post on my page was in reference to her in any way.'
"As a mother of a child who has been harassed, intimated, and bullied continually in this district until this very day on social media since May 9, 2020, it totally breaks my heart…in fact, it truly hits home," said Manz.
According to Manz, at the previous BOE meeting, a board member was accused of making fun of a specific person on a post on her personal private Facebook page. Manz said her post came in the wake of a fellow resident's rant about an inappropriate flag on a town-based page. Manz stated that her post was reacted to 29 times and included a total of 48 comments – 24 which were hers along with 15 from non-residents and nine from South Plainfield residents.
"My page is private to my friends list, none of whom are this specific parent or young lady…said Manz. "We are only privy to one particular comment that has made scathing headlines and been force fed to the public…to publicly shame this sitting board member with no facts to support the allegations."
Manz then proceeded to read the post, stated, 'I quote, 'So, let me get this straight, there is a resident in town on a soap box about a flag they are so offended by because the word [explicit] is displayed. It's baffling to me how that's so offensive to this person and their family seeing the TikToks, posts, videos and public rants and language that come out of that same household. You know the saying 'it starts at home.' Honey, worry about you and yours. You got way bigger problems in this town than that flag you're so offended by…'"
Manz told the SPBOE that she also inserted laughing emojis and two hashtags – '#DrinkyDrink' and '#HaveAnother,' which she 'created personally' and uses in many of her personal posts. "Just to be clear. My words. My hashtags. Something I created personally and nothing anyone should take claim to," she said, adding that although Boyle was one of the nine South Plainfield residents to comment, no names were used. "No names in my post. No names in Debbie's post. Only assumptions from those outside of my friends list that claim to 'absolutely know' that it was pertaining to a specific child."
Manz told the SPBOE that while the issue was not school-related, it took up 'an entire meeting' on Feb. 10 at which time a board member [Jim Giannakis] verbally attacked another board member [Boyle] and strongly suggested she resign 'with no actual proof or validation, only assumptions.'
According to Manz, the 'public performance worthy of an Emmy was disgraceful and embarrassing' and she called the 'hypocrisy' among the board and administration a 'disgrace.' "Our children's disciplinary matters fall into the hands of this board….are our children also judged this way? With no supporting facts, only emotions and personal feelings about them and their parents," she said.
Alexys' father, John Craggan, took to the podium next, providing an in-depth description of the term 'bullying' and how 'aggressive behavior, categorized by hostile intent, imbalance of power, and repetition over a period of time' are characteristics.
"Bullying is the activity of repeated aggressive behavior intended to hurt another individual physically, mentally, or emotionally. "Now I am not here to say Mrs. Boyle intimidated my daughter repeatedly, but she intimidated my daughter," said Craggan.
"She was involved in a post on social media [made] by a parent…there are screenshots of the statements made, the emojis laughing and all comments that followed. Remember, there were nine comments made by residents, and most of them were Mrs. Boyle's emojis. Although she didn’t have to say much, she did reference my daughter's TikTok with a hashtag. To say she is not referring to my daughter is a complete and utter lie…" he said.
Carbonaro, who attended the meeting virtually and called in, added, "I want to thank Debbie Boyle for the apology. I do appreciate [it] but, unfortunately, it came too late…"
Without naming names, Carbonaro also stated that a resident has made about 30 other social media posts about her and her family. Additionally, she said, immediately following the Feb. 10 meeting, a Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation (HIB) report was filed against her daughter Jessica.
Carbonaro also announced that, in the wake of the Feb. 10 meeting, she launched a petition on Change.org requesting Boyle resign from her position 'effective immediately.' In the online petition (https://rb.gy/k3xddw), which has garnered over 600 signatures as of press time, Carbonaro states, 'Mrs. Boyle was elected to represent our children and their best interests. She plays a role in casting votes on district policies pertaining to bullying. Yet, she is guilty of publicly bullying the students she is charged with protecting.'
Alexys, who for the second time in as many weeks took to the podium, echoed her mother's sentiment regarding the apology, telling the SPBOE 'I have already been hurt by that message and you had a chance to apologize to me last time.'
"It pains me to see you all letting her sit on that stage…and continue to be in charge of the school district while she is bullying kids... there should not be any opportunity for this to happen again and since she's already done it more than once who knows if she will do it again to anyone [else's] kid."
Her sister Jessica, who also attended, responded to Manz, stating, "I find it absolutely disheartening that you can discount what happened to make a young girl stand up for herself about a tattoo [after being] publicly shamed by a board member." Jessica, a sophomore at SPHS, went on to add that just not using a name 'doesn’t make it okay.'
She also stated that she finds the whole thing 'hypocritical' since she has personally had six HIB complaints filed against her [by] the family who made the post. "It's habitual…[and in] the most recent one filed against me I use no name in my statement. Isn't that crazy? I didn’t use a name… [but] you can just go on social media and talk bad about anyone and [since] you don’t use a name, it's okay, it's not bullying, and no one gets in trouble…" said Jessica.
Longtime resident Georgeann Cochrane also took the podium, stating, "I have known Debbie…. I have worked with Debbie on many different occasions and in many different ways and I have never seen Debbie do anything that would hurt a child in this town. If anything, she goes above board to do what she needs to do to help."
Cochrane said she feels this issue is one between two families and not something that should have been brought to the board. "If the board has no recourse to do anything, and [it] really shouldn’t, this should be between these people…it doesn’t really matter what is said; if you don’t want anyone to make a remark about it, then you shouldn’t put it in writing," she said.
"Everyone is trying to get up here and discount what is taking place. It is not just two families who need to hash it out together; that's not what this is [about] anymore because somebody else commented that shouldn’t have - somebody who is in a position of power and just because [they didn't] use names doesn’t mean it is okay," resident Zoe Lambert, a 2020 graduate of South Plainfield High School who also spoke at the Feb. 10 meeting, told the SPBOE.
"If nothing is going to be done by the board, I really wish to know if you have advice for what we can do to take it into our own hands because I feel this is a failure if we are unable to do anything."
The board's attorney Joe Roselli told Lambert that the board cannot advise on the issue and informed her that there are online resources available that can provide this information.
Additionally, stated Chapman, while the board 'does not condone this action,' it also has 'no authority to take action on this or any other similar situation' and that only the school ethics commission or commissioner of education has the authority to do so.'
"…Members of the community are expecting the board to take action or do something to address this [but] we, as a board, including the superintendent, may not legally remove a member or even discipline the board member," said Chapman, adding, "We can only state as individual board members when we do not agree…"
During the board member comment portion of the meeting, Vice President Tom Cassio added, "We have been here an hour, an hour and half now. We have spent the last two weeks talking about social media posts attacking children, not apologizing, apologizing; I didn’t say that, I might have said that…."
According to Cassio, the district is being 'distracted' from its focus, which is to bring the students back into the schools and ensure that teachers are able to get vaccinated. "This is an embarrassment to this town. These so-called posts and people feeling that they have the right to berate and embarrass people on social media…," he said., noting that social media should be for promote family gatherings, special events, birthdays, and 'things of that nature.'
"It has gone beyond that…and it is sad…I hope we can get beyond that and stop this childish behavior of attacking people and get back to taking care of this district, the children, the taxpayers, and the teachers and staff…." said Cassio.
The South Plainfield Board of Education will hold its next meeting on Wednesday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. At this time, in-person meetings are being held in the high school auditorium (unless otherwise noted) and can also be accessed via Zoom. Information, including links to upcoming virtual meetings as well as videos of past sessions, is available on the district's website at http://www.spboe.org/board_of_education/board_meeting_videos.
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