Home Moral guidelines NJ acquits Hunterdon school board member for wearing Pride mask

NJ acquits Hunterdon school board member for wearing Pride mask


TOWNSHIP OF RARITAN – The state school ethics commission has cleared a member of the Hunterdon Central Regional High School school board of an ethics charge for wearing a Pride face mask during a school board meeting.

The commission also voted a fine of $100 to the two people who filed the complaint for filing a frivolous complaint.

The lawsuit, filed April 14 by Lisa Santanagelo and Sandy Ostrander, against board member Noelle O’Donnell, grew out of a spirited board meeting on February 28, attended by more than 300 people, when a parent group, Protect Your Children, pushed the school district to remove LGBTQ books from the school curriculum.

Most of the students and community members spoke out at the meeting against the removal of the books.

During the meeting, O’Donnell, who chairs the council’s equity, racism and diversity committee, followed council protocol by wearing a face mask. The mask had the rainbow pride colors.

Santangelo and Ostrander alleged in their complaint that O’Donnell violated state ethics rules and that by wearing the mask she was “openly supporting a special group” of students.

They alleged that “showing support for a particular group of students sends a message to other students, parents and the community of diverse opinions and beliefs that they are not supported”.

They also said that by wearing the mask, O’Donnell “created an environment that made anyone with an opposing point of view fearful of speaking up about their point of view” and that she “intentionally took action which led to public comment being stifled due to its own biases”.

Also see:NJ high school librarian who opposed LGBTQ book removal receives national honor

O’Donnell filed a motion to dismiss the ethics complaint because other than wearing the Pride mask, the complaint did not cite any other actions she had taken.

O’Donnell also asked the commission to declare the complaint frivolous because it was written to harass her “without even the pretense of a bona fide legal basis.”

O’Donnell said, according to the commission’s decision, Santangelo and Ostrander were using the code of ethics “like a weapon” and “trying to scare board members into neutrality.”

The ethics commission agreed with O’Donnell, saying Santangelo and Ostrander did not have “sufficient credible facts” to support an ethics violation claim.

“In today’s culture and climate,” the commission wrote in its decision, “it is now more important than ever that all students feel included and represented and (O’Donnell’s) decisions were an attempt to support a particular group of students who felt threatened by an impending decision on programs and books.”

The commission wrote that the complaint’s suggestion that mask-wearing was evidence that O’Donnell is not standing up for all students is “flawed, reckless and callous.”

The commission concluded that “Santangelo and Ostrander’s attempt to reverse (O’Donnell’s) efforts is most unfortunate”.

The commission also found the complaint to be frivolous because Santangelo and Ostrander “knew, or should have known, that this complaint was without reasonable basis in law or in equity, and could not be supported by a good faith argument for a extension, modification or cancellation of the existing right.

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Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. For unlimited access to her articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account.