Reminder: Do Not Bring Weapons To Meetings

Sometimes, it appears that you need to say the little things, so please… do NOT be like Layla Graham, and do NOT bring a weapon to the Council meeting this evening.

Meeting Info for May 21, 2024:

  • Agenda: http://teanecktownnj.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=1896&Inline=True
  • Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88241458874 (Passcode: 651745)
  • Cable (ch. 77) or FiOS (ch. 47)
  • Youtube (TBD) or Web: http://teanecktownnj.iqm2.com/Citizens/default.aspx

For those unaware, you can watch what transpired at the prior meeting here:

Layla Graham appeared for her first appearance (CJP) in Bergen County Superior Court on May 13th.

Her next scheduled appearance is June 11th at 9am before Criminal Judge Marc Ramundo.

Amanda Kearney’s first appearance is set for tomorrow, May 22nd (also before Criminal Judge Marc Ramundo) at 9am.

UPDATE: Amanda Kearney’s first appearance was postponed to June 11th at 9a before Criminal Judge Marc Ramundo.

If you wish to attend, please note that all criminal appearances are listed for 9am, so there may be some waiting involved.
The Courtroom is in Building 3 on the fourth floor, room 401.


The State of New Jersey v. Layla M. Graham:

S-2024-000179-0260

Continue reading “Reminder: Do Not Bring Weapons To Meetings”

What is Kaplan v. Teaneck BOE about anyway?

In one word, Transparency. It’s also about the fact that the Board dismissed Principal Pedro Vades from Teaneck Hich School through a series of meetings that violates NJ’s Sunshine Law.

The law lets any citizen bring suit to ensure the law is complied with correctly.  Today, I happen to be that citizen.

Of course, Mr. Edelstein (who says on his firm Bio:  “I always want to be the best prepared person in the courtroom”), has the upper hand being an attorney admitted to the NJ bar longer than I’ve been alive.

Oral Argument was held on Friday, April 5th.  Both BOE Counsel Stephen J. Edelstein from the Weiner Law Group and I argued our points to Judge Catuogno.

Why am I doing this?

I have lived in Teaneck for almost 20 years.  My daughter attended the district and I’ve volunteered my time as a public servant on the Planning Board and Township Council where I had the opportunity to represent the interests of residents.  While I do not personally benefit from the outcome of this action, the case affects important issues and the lives of residents.  Principal Valdes has spent his life and career in Teaneck.  He is respected by the student body and parents and the greater community.  Among the violative meetings for which I’m asking this Court to take action to void was a December meeting in which he was removed from the high school.  While the NJ Supreme Court has indicated under a case called Polillo and the cases that followed it that even mere procedural improprieties should be found to be violative of the OPMA, the current issues before the court affect real people and deserve to be vindicated for many within the municipality.

Why not have an attorney argue this?

Continue reading “What is Kaplan v. Teaneck BOE about anyway?”

Kaplan v. Board of Education Oral Argument

Oral Argument in Kaplan v. Teaneck Board of Education will take place on Friday, April 5th at 2pm before Judge Catuogno

Link to Argument

What is the case about?

Violations of the Open Public Meetings Act [NJSA 10:4-6 et seq]
NJ’s Sunshine Law was passed in the 1970s and requires all State Agencies, Public Universities, Municipal Governments, and Boards of Education to follow certain requirements. The Complaint alleges that the Teaneck Board of Education has violated these requirements for many years, including recent meetings at which Principal Valdes was removed from Teaneck High School, the Board met in secret, without informing the public about discussions, and more.

Is there evidence the Board violated the OPMA?

Yes, the Board Admitted to doing so
The Board admits they violated the OPMA. In their Answer to the Court, they admit that they technically violated the Notice Requirements for the OPMA [NJSA 10:4-8(d)] for Workshop and Regular Public Meetings in paragraph 41 and they admit that they technically violated the proper notice requirements for the special meeting of December 21, 2023 (at which they removed Principal Valdes from THS) at paragraph 22

[Link to answer: Answer]

Is technical non-compliance something important?

Yes, under binding precedent, the Court may be lenient in looking at the remedy used to cure a defect, but not as to whether a defect took place.
Under Polillo v. Deane (which the Board of Ed cites in their own documents), the Supreme Court of NJ said:

The thrust of defendants’ argument is that the Court should uphold the Commission’s recommendation on the basis of its substantial compliance with the Sunshine Law. They assert (1) that there was no attempt “to meet secretly or without some notice to the public,” as found by the Appellate Division, and (2) that any meeting at which formal votes were taken complied with the Act, thereby satisfying the requirements of the law. Although, on these facts, we impute to the Commission no wrongful motivation for choosing to conduct its business as it did, lack of wrongful intent cannot excuse noncompliance with the Act. Such a reading of the statute would invite abuse and would contravene the legislative intent in enacting the provision.

Rather than providing a new exception to the rule, we believe that defendants’ suggestion would swallow the rule. Accordingly we reject this argument completely and hold that strict adherence to the letter of the law is required in considering whether a violation of the Act has occurred.
Polillo v. Deane 74 N.J. 562 (1977)

What will happen if the Plaintiff wins?

Under the NJ Open Public Meetings Act, the Judge is empowered to do two things:
  1. Void actions that were done not in accordance with the OPMA [NJSA 10:4-15]
  2. Issue an injunction [NJSA 10:4-16] that the Board must follow the rules of OPMA going forward (which can be enforced if they do not follow the rules)

What can the Board do if the actions are voided?

The Board is free at any time to re-do the actions that were done improperly [see NJSA 10:4-15]. In fact, the Board claims that they have done so (at the meeting of January 17th). This will be one of the topics of discussion at the hearing on Friday.

How does the Board Re-Do the Votes they took improperly?

If the Board does decide to re-do their decisions (e.g. the vote to remove Principal Valdes), they would have to:
  • Properly Notice a meeting
  • Send out an Agenda stating the action(s) they wish to take
  • Abide by the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act and any other applicable laws (e.g. RICE notices to affected employees)
  • Mention the information or testimony/reports from the previous discussion(s) they intend to use to form the basis for a vote
  • Since there are new members of the Board who didn’t attend the closed sessions in December, they will likely need to re-do the closed session discussion for the new members
  • Have public input (from those who did not know about the previous meeting at a minimum, but hopefully anyone who wishes to speak)

STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES

Hearing information:

The hearing before Judge Catuogno will take place on Friday, April 5th at 2pm. You can watch via the Zoom link below:
Topic: (MTD Hearing) Kaplan v. Teaneck BOE – BER-L-121-24
Time: Apr 5, 2024 02:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join NJCourts Virtual Courtroom
Meeting ID: 161 626 3311
Password: 010820
If anyone is interested in reading the documents in the case, they can do so here: https://www.teanecktoday.com/blog/board-of-education/litigation/ber-l-000121-24-kaplan-vs-teaneck-board-of-education/

“The Line”: Is it dead or will it be resurrected? Some Counties are already abandoning the fight. Here’s what has happened…

The Line is Dead, but this Easter, plenty of pols are hoping for a Resurrection

What has happened since Judge Quraishi’s opinion?

For those unaware: NJ has been using “the line” to ensure preferential treatment for establishment pols since the 60’s.  It works incredibly well.  There hasn’t been a pol that won “off the line” in about a decade and a half (since 2009).  You can read about the case against the line here: Abolosh The Line

Judge Zahid N. Quraishi (NJ’s First Muslim Article III Judge) ruled on Friday that the line had to go.

Some NJ Pols are… not happy about it.

Here’s what has happened since: Continue reading ““The Line”: Is it dead or will it be resurrected? Some Counties are already abandoning the fight. Here’s what has happened…”

Monday 3/18: Teaneck Schools Budget Presentation (2024-25)

Teaneck Board of Education SPECIAL MEETING for the Budget Presentation

Click to enlarge the slides:

2024-2025 Preliminary Budget Presentation

 

2023-24 Revaluation Trends for Teaneck

Revaluation 2023-24

Here’s some data from the preliminary numbers


Average Change Across Teaneck

Average Change in Assessed ValueAverage Change in Assessed ValueAverage Change in Yearly Tax paymentNumber of houses in category
$237,949.1262.08%-$51.3510,974

Check your assessments by taking a look at the links below.  Assessments are grouped by voting district.

(use the slider to see additional information)

District 1 District 2 District 3 District 4
District 5 District 6 District 7 District 8
District 9 District 10 District 11 District 12
District 13 District 14 District 15 District 16
District 17 District 18 District 19 District 20
District 21 District 22 District 23

Changes in Annual Tax Levy by Voting District

Voting DistrictNumber of PropertiesAvg. Change in Yearly Payment
1444-$113.46
2514$120.91
3508-$331.03
4566$23.19
5334$329.00
6413$46.37
7432-$0.89
8613$140.11
9548-$87.98
10591-$119.95
11492-$271.53
12544-$463.60
13474-$26.48
14619$56.20
15154$175.51
16332-$61.53
17543$125.47
18545-$60.58
19554$15.18
20366-$410.78
21571-$166.43
22408$127.88
23409-$25.13
Continue reading “2023-24 Revaluation Trends for Teaneck”

Kaplan v. Teaneck BOE

An open email to the Teaneck Board of Education and District:

BER-L-000121-24 Keith Kaplan v. Teaneck Board of Education, et al.

The Teaneck Board of Education has problems.

There’s the Federal investigation into Civil Rights Violations by the Office of Civil Rights

There’s the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression Investigation and charges of Civil Rights Violations

(First Letter from FIRE) (Second Letter from FIRE)

And now, there’s a Superior Court action for multiple violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (NJ’s signature transparency law)

I called several of the OPMA violations out at meetings, including the failure to abide by the minimum requirements of transparency–sending notice to two newspapers.  The First Amendment organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) has called them out for Civil Rights violations, not once, but TWICE.  And the Feds are investigating the District.

Sadly, there’s no sign that the illegal and improper activities that the Trustees of the Board of Education and the Administration in Teaneck have been engaged in, will be ending on their own.

So I have filed a Verified Complaint and an Order to Show Cause against the School District.  Today, the Order was granted by Judge Catuogno.

I do not take this step lightly.  However the law requires certain actions, and they have not been taken.  To wit: Continue reading “Kaplan v. Teaneck BOE”

Municipal Weather: Shady With Remote Chance of Sunshine

The last meeting of both the Municipal Council and the Board of Education has shown just how much transparency is a buzzword, without much meaning, to many elected to public office.

The Council

At the December 12th meeting of the Teaneck Council, Councilwoman Goldberg made a motion to appoint co-chairs of the PPRAB. In response, the following conversation appears to indicate that open session (public) items have not only been discussed in closed session but decisions were made in closed session for open session items, in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA):

Discussion from the December 12th Open session meeting:

You can watch the entire meeting here: https://youtu.be/uOHqH3unrQ8?t=4526

The conversation below starts at approximately 1:15:26

Deputy Mayor Gee: “Mr. Mayor, I’m doing all the personnel nominations, I’m not sure why she [Councilwoman Goldberg] did that.”

CW Belcher: “The discussion is, I thought in closed session, we said that Deputy Mayor Gee was going to put forth the nominations, so I don’t know why Councilwoman Goldberg is usurping that intent. That was clearly stated during closed session.” Continue reading “Municipal Weather: Shady With Remote Chance of Sunshine”

Teaneck BOE Violates OPRA to Keep Public in the Dark

What happens in a closed session of the Council or Board of Education stays in that closed session… but the minutes, with proper redactions, are still a public record.

But not according to the Teaneck Board of Education.  I have emailed the Board Secretary to provide these documents.  If they do not do so, suit shall be commenced.

I hope they do not waste taxpayer dollars trying to hide this public information.

Keith Kaplan
Teaneck Today Continue reading “Teaneck BOE Violates OPRA to Keep Public in the Dark”

When the Board of Education Violated My Civil Rights, I Chose to Fight Fisher with F.I.R.E.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (“FIRE”) calls on the Board to reform its policies and practices to comply with its constitutional obligations.

“When the Board of Education Violated My Civil Rights, I Chose to Fight Fisher with F.I.R.E.” – Keith Kaplan

The Board of Education is bound by the First Amendment

Lest anyone thinks that the standpoint the board based their vague and unequally applied rules has any standing, I’d urge you to read Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

In the opinion, the Court says:

“The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures — Boards of Education not excepted.”

“Such Boards are numerous, and their territorial jurisdiction often small. But small and local authority may feel less sense of responsibility to the Constitution, and agencies of publicity may be less vigilant in calling it to account.”

“There are village tyrants, as well as village Hampdens, but none who acts under color of law is beyond reach of the Constitution.”

“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

and my favorite line from any opinion:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”


The Superintendent’s Letter:

On October 11, Teaneck School’s Superintendent Dr. Andre D. Spencer sent out a letter to parents in the wake of the most horrific attack on the Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust.

In that letter, Dr. Spencer referred to the attacks perpetrated by Hamas as “the latest incidents in the cycle of violence in the Middle East” and “[t]he unfortunate situation in the Middle East”.

In the days following, I personally reached out to Dr. Spencer and we spoke via telephone for a while about the reasons the letter was so problematic to many residents, including those who had children in the district.  I even went as far as to prepare language that Dr. Spencer might be able to use1 to indicate that he understood the Jewish community’s anguish and was being responsive to those in his care.

Subsequently, parents in the township organized a Change.org petition, entitled: “Teaneck Public Schools: Revise Your Statement on Terrorism in Israel“, which urged the Superintendent to revisit his remarks.  The letter was signed by 3,071 individuals.

On October 17th, the Township Council unanimously passed Resolution 272-2023 “Denouncing the Terrorist Group Hamas and Supporting the State of Israel”.

Residents reach out to BOE and receive unequal treatment

The next day, residents came to address the Board of Education and Superintendent Spencer at the regular board meeting of October 18th [video link to meeting].

FIRE: The Teaneck Board of Education’s Restrictions on Public Comment Violate the First Amendment

At the 10/18 BOE meeting, Board Vice President Victoria Fisher regularly cut off speakers who mentioned atrocities committed by Hamas against Israel, but did not do so for those making comments in the opposite direction.  After seeing at least six of these incidents happen (watch e.g. at time indexes: 16:55, 50:16, 54:35 and 1:21:57), I went to the microphone and spoke.

Teaneck Board of Education Vice President Victoria Fisher (left) cuts off a person from speaking during the public comment period of the Oct. 18, 2023 meeting of the Teaneck Board of Education.

You can watch me speaking at time reference 1:49:57.

Several residents were cut off from speaking based on vague notions that dangerous actions, described in detail were too much for High School students in attendance, to hear.


The Court in Cohen v. CA dealt with the issue of using alternative words, stating:

“Additionally, we cannot overlook the fact, because it is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much linguistic expression serves a dual communicative function: it conveys not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well. In fact, words are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said,
“[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures — and that means not only informed and responsible criticism, but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation.” Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U. S. 665, 322 U. S. 673-674 (1944).
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)

I was cut off from speaking no less than 3 times, due solely to the words I spoke to the board.  This was an egregious violation of the First Amendment, as well as State Law (N.J. STAT. § 10:4-12(a) — OPMA) and Board Policy.

“Several parents and community members used the public comment period to criticize Spencer for not explicitly and forcefully condemning the attack. But when they described Hamas’s actions to support that criticism, the board repeatedly shut them down. The board took particular exception to commenters’ “graphic” descriptions of the attack and repeatedly told speakers to keep in mind that children were in the audience.

Yet when other commenters used their time to emphasize the plight of Palestinians and used similarly “graphic” language, the board allowed them to continue.”

– Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Watch the board selectively stop certain points of view:

“For example, when one speaker said it’s possible to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s actions without taking a side in the conflict “unless of course you’re trying to appease people who actually think that the raping and murdering and pillaging of the community is appropriate,” Board Vice President Victoria Fisher immediately cut him off. In contrast, the board remained silent when another commenter said, “These people talking about raping and piling bodies on top of each other, that happened in the Holocaust. And if they’re having PTSD for what they’re doing to the Muslim community in Palestine, that’s something they need to seek mental health counseling for.”

When a speaker rhetorically asked how others would feel if “Indigenous people in our country … pulled your kids out of their beds and then shot you in front of them,” Fisher disapprovingly interrupted. But the board allowed someone else to freely comment that Israel’s “dehumanizing and genocidal actions” and the “propaganda surrounding them have spread all the way to us, where kids are stabbed 26 times just for being Palestinian.”

The board also repeatedly warned speakers discussing the Hamas attack not to repeat details or facts already “on the record.” Yet several pro-Palestinian speakers repeated details mentioned by previous commenters without receiving such warnings or admonitions.”

– Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Cease and Desist

At the next meeting, the Board voted in closed session to have the Counsel for the District send a letter to “Cease and Desist” regarding my “conduct” to the board.  In this revision of history, the attorneys stated:

“The Board takes no position with respect to the subject matter of your comments”

This is clearly belied by the facts, as anyone can see on the recorded Board meeting.

Luckily, there are groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), whose mission is “to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty.”

FIRE lays out exactly where the Board VP, Victoria Fisher repeatedly violated the civil rights of parents and other members of our community.  The letter, which is posted in full below with links to all relative documents and cases, requests a response by December 11th.  I will update you whenever responses come through.

The response from FIRE to the Teaneck Board of Education can be read here:

2023-11-27_FIRE Letter to Teaneck Public Schools Board of Education, November 27, 2023

Due to a significant number of emails received by the Teaneck Board of Education, I also notified Board President Sebastian Rodriguez and Vice President Victoria Fisher separately, since they were cc’d on the communication to me.  I will post any further responses I receive below.


Response from Teaneck Board of Education Vice President Victoria Fisher:

Response from Teaneck Board of Education President Sebastian Rodriguez:

“Keith you sent the letter to the attorney Mr. Tabarkin, as such you must wait for his response by the due date on the letter (12/11/23).”

  1. The language I gave Dr. Spencer was based on a letter prepared by the President of Northwestern University.
    Sadly, Dr. Spencer did not send this and chose not to revise his communications.  You can find my suggested wording here (note these are NOT words created by Dr. Spencer):
    Last week, I sent out a letter outlining services our community can provide to our scholars, staff, and families. In that communication, some language has been seen by members of our community to suggest that I believe that the Teaneck Public School District as an entity does not condemn the atrocities that were committed. That cannot be further from the truth and I write again to share my thoughts about our values and our response to atrocities. There is no one who believes we should not be governed by a set of values… that everything is relative. Let me be very clear — we are absolutely guided by a set of shared values and principles. Among the values that we all share and embrace both individually and collectively are commitments to open discourse, diversity, equity, inclusion, and an abhorrence of antisemitism and racism. The abhorrent and horrific actions of Hamas last Saturday are clearly antithetical to Teaneck’s and our scholars’ values — as well as my own. Wherever one finds themselves on greater issues regarding the conflict, our shared humanity should lead us all to condemn these barbaric acts. One more value that I know we share in Teaneck is care and compassion for one another. Our scholars, our faculty, our staff, and our entire community are in tremendous pain. This is a moment for us to pull together, support one another, and seek common ground. I have been in communication with our leaders. We are coordinating our resources. No one should think we need to agree with each other about divisive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we must have empathy for each other and strive to build understanding. We condemn the terror visited on our community. We share our compassion and stand with all innocent people in Israel and Gaza at this time.