Frances Cogelja, the Hackensack school board member who came under fire for her criticism of LGBT curriculum and for her initial refusal to approve an anti-racism board resolution, resigned Tuesday after she accidentally broadcast from a bathroom break during a board meeting.
The Zoom mishap happened during Monday’s Hackensack Board of Education meeting. By Tuesday afternoon, the Hackensack school district’s website had posted an announcement that Cogelja had resigned effective Tuesday.
“It was time to move on,” said board President Lancelot Powell. “We had a long history of issues [with Cogelja]. and we here at Hackensack want to do what’s best for the community and our kids. After last night, all I can say is we wish her the best.”
Cogelja did not respond to a request for comment. She was first elected in 2018, and her term was expiring next year.
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Virtual meetings have caused some struggles for public bodies since the coronavirus outbreak led to shutdowns in March, though the problems are largely audio glitches or issues with the public calling in to comment. Ridgewood’s first virtual public meeting was cut off after hackers broadcast porn and racial and anti-Semitic slurs. Linden stopped letting its council members use their own backgrounds after one councilwoman sat in front of a painting of a naked derrière during a council meeting.
Largely unknown outside of Hackensack, Cogelja made statewide news in 2019 when emails showed she described herself as “disgusted and appalled” by a new state mandate requiring LGBT curriculum in schools. The emails, in which she told a school official that an “alternate lifestyle narrative is being shoved [down] our children’s throats,” produced an outcry in the city and beyond, with U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker issuing a statement criticizing her.
She survived that episode, only to find herself in hot water again in June as New Jersey and the nation were gripped by racial unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Board members drafted a resolution that committed school officials to anti-racism and cultural proficiency in the 5,700-student district, but when the time came for a vote, Cogelja abstained.
The board held a special meeting the next week to vote on the resolution again, and this time Cogelja voted yes, and said an unspecified personal conflict was behind her earlier abstention. But by then, even some of her former supporters on the board said she was too divisive. One, Scott James-Vickery, criticized her for her “very narrow worldview.”
The board has until Jan. 29 to appoint Cogelja’s replacement.
Terrence T. McDonald is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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