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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Rally Protests OC Schools’ Leader, Practices

Protestors gathered outside Ocean City’s Flanders Hotel June 4 in opposition to a gala held at the hotel to honor School Superintendent Kathleen Taylor’s retirement. Taylor and the school district have come under scrutiny amid recent claims by students and alumni of harassment and abuse taking place in the city’s schools. 

By Karen Knight

OCEAN CITY – About 40-50 Ocean City School District alumni, parents, and concerned community members staged a “peaceful protest” June 4, at the Ocean City Education Foundation’s “Health, Well-being and Happiness” dinner honoring Superintendent Kathleen Taylor, who is retiring after 15 years leading the district.
Brianna Thomas, who is part of a group of alumni who organized a petition (https://bit.ly/3vZi0hK), in April, calling for the New Jersey State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), state Attorney General’s Office, and Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate “unsafe and unjust practices” of high school staff, said the rally was intended to show “this form of leadership should not be celebrated or repeated.”
Protestors carried signs reading, “OC Deserves Better,” “Kids First, Not Taylor,” “Kids Not Accolades,” “Celebrate Our Kids Not Taylor,” “Fear Has No Place Here” and “Enough is Enough.” An airplane flew overhead, with a banner: “Enough is Enough Back to Caring for the Kids!” 
“Dr. Taylor’s leadership was one that encouraged intimidation and fear amongst students and staff,” Thomas said. “The brave students who have come forward with stories of sexual assault/misconduct, bullying, the failure of IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans), etc., have consistently confirmed and maintained that Dr. Taylor’s leadership led to the current decline in student morale, safety, and mental health.
“We, as the group who organized the petition, have chosen to team up with the other members of the community for this rally to make it clear to the OCBOE (Ocean City Board of Education) that this form of leadership should not be celebrated or repeated,” she added. “We intend on making a clear statement that the community is willing to show up for students and will continue fighting for them long after this change in leadership.”
Thomas said she also had current students approach her, wishing they could participate in the protest, but didn’t because they feared retaliation from school staff.
The petition has more than 60 anecdotes of instances alleging bullying, substance abuse, abuse of powers, mental health issues, suicides, and harmful ideas or traditions. As of June 6, the petition had more than 3,318 signatures. The goal is 5,000.
“Dr. Taylor did not appear,” Thomas said about the protest, “which is a little disappointing, but completely expected.”
“I am extremely proud of the response to our petition and the call for change,” she said. “We are spreading the news about the petition through social media, and as more and more people hear of it, we are getting more and more stories.
“Our goal now is to get a meeting with the New Jersey Board of Education,” Thomas added. “We’ve been disappointed by the way the Ocean City Board of Education has been responding. I feel they are sweeping it under the rug because no students have come forward to them with complaints despite my repeatedly telling them that students fear retaliation. When I spoke at the April meeting (https://bit.ly/2SiXqKL), I raised several questions and do not feel they have been addressed or responded to.”
When contacted June 5 for reactions to the protest, Aimee Schultz, communications coordinator, Ocean City School District, referred to the April 28 statement issued by the school board (https://bit.ly/2RzdebY), adding, “We have no additional comments other than to say the event held last night was a fundraiser held by a private organization to raise funds to benefit the creation of outdoor wellness centers at each of the schools for the students.”
The $75-a-plate dinner held at the Flanders Hotel, in Ocean City, was an “evening to salute and thank Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor for her years of service to the Ocean City community,” according to the foundation’s website (https://bit.ly/3cpgopU). Proceeds are to be used for the creation of outdoor wellness spaces throughout the Ocean City School District by the foundation.
Thomas said she attended the May meeting where School Board President Joseph Clark reported the board intends to “have some sort of community participation” in the selection of the new superintendent. 
An interim superintendent was hired, and Thomas said the district hired firms to find a replacement nationwide. Once the decision is closer, she said Clark indicated they would determine how to have community participation in the process.
Clark did not respond to a June 5 email request for further information.
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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