A Mountain (Lakes) of Public School Curriculum Criticism

MOUNTAIN LAKES – Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the school district in this affluent, Morris County community put together an e-pamphlet called “Seeking Justice from Reflection to Action,” which reportedly encouraged political activism in support of “anti-racist” ideology.

To some, this may have seemed like an appropriate response to a galvanizing event.

But not to all.

The district and its leaders are being sued, individually, in federal court for allegedly discriminating against white students. The suit claims that district curriculum and activities related to the Floyd case forced a “racial political ideology onto its students” in violation of federal law. Moreover, such programming created a “hostile educational environment” for students who were discriminated against because of their skin color.

Nothing happens in a vacuum and the evolving story in Mountain Lakes is not unprecedented. Throughout the country, those on the political right have been criticizing public school curriculum as being hostile to whites and even anti-American.

See the debate about critical race theory.

This suit raises a basic question that can seem counterintuitive to some: Is speaking about and encouraging others – in this case students – to condemn racism, somehow racist itself?

The litigation expresses concern that the district talked about such things as “white privilege” and “institutional inequity.”

This forum is hardly a courtroom, but a central point must be raised. If a student, and/or his parents, disagree with a perceived classroom message, does that constitute discrimination? Or is it merely something with which not everyone agrees? For example, some would argue that white privilege and institutional inequity are genuine concerns that should be discussed with students.

The suit lists the plaintiffs as B.L. on behalf of his child, J.L. This is normally done to protect the identity of a minor and we will maintain that confidentiality here.

Nonetheless, the reality is that Mountain Lakes is not a large place and many in town seem to know who the plaintiffs are.

So much so that B.L. issued a statement through his attorney, Ronald A, Berutti, Cedar Knolls. Here it is:

“For two years, I have been in dialogue with the Mountain Lakes School Distrct about a basic discrimination matter. I believe the Mountain Lakes School District was influenced by prevailing national narrative and local social groups to advance specific messaging that is not fair and equal to all students. I am concerned that the school district works with selected groups in private meetings and via email without transparency and input from all parents in a public forum.

“Even in times of national turmoil, the school district must adhere to district policy and follow state and federal laws. It is unfortunate that we live in a time when holding our public institutions accountable is met in our community – and our country – by intimidation and personal attacks. My intent is not political and not intended to start a movement. It is simply for our schools to follow policy and law and stop discriminatory practices.

“My family has unfortunately been subject to harsh judgement, name calling and intimidation. We are humbled and appreciative of the support of so many in our town and throughout the state who have raised similar questions in their school districts but are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution. It is my hope that this matter is resolved for the sake of the next generation.”

In addition to the award of damages, the suit seeks to enjoin district programming from making claims about “white privilege” and implied systematic injustice because of skin color.

The suit also seeks to prevent the district from receiving federal funds until – and unless – it ceases its “discriminatory” practices. That can be more symbolic than real; local school districts do not receive all that much federal funding.

A message left this morning with the superintendent of schools, who was named as one of the defendants, has not yet been returned.

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7 responses to “A Mountain (Lakes) of Public School Curriculum Criticism”

  1. The information on the suit and family is all available in the public domain.
    The Lane family are wealthy and politically motivated and involved and the “child” has been accepted into a top tier college and he seems like a rather happy HS senior. Where’s the discrimination?


    It has become evident from the election cycle this past November that the hotbed of political controversy in New Jersey is now local school board elections throughout our state. School Board meetings have become a place where misinformation has been weaponized and millions of dollars in dark money has come to roost.

    Currently, in the state of New Jersey, we are facing a crisis in public education. No less than 26 “radical right” organizations are pumping tens of millions of dollars into campaigns to elect school board members who promote their agenda, that includes the following: (1) to remove diversity and inclusion from of our schools, (2) to whitewash curriculum and eliminate any reference to racism and/or discrimination, (3) to exclude any reference to alternative lifestyles, (4) to inject “theocratic” precepts into our public school education, and (5) to vilify professionals, such as teachers and administrators.
    These groups, which operate with innocent enough sounding names like “Moms for Liberty,” “Arise NJ,” “NJ Fresh Faced Schools” and the “Council for Garden State Families,” are accomplishing this by disguising their radical ideas in plain sight and by categorizing anyone who disagrees with them as Socialist, Marxist, Communist and extreme liberal.

    Through the premise of promoting “parental choice” and freedom of choice with regard to their child’s education, these organizations, the “hired gun” they inject into local school meetings and the parents who are being manipulated by them, have brought to the forefront a very narrow view of the world. It is a clear attempt to indoctrinate our children with specific ideas that serve only one purpose – to homogenize our public education system. This attack is part of a national campaign to activate local parents with misinformation in order to flip voting on the ballots from bottom-up instead of top-down. And unfortunately, it is working.

    Using politically charged acronyms like CRT, which has never been taught in K-12, they lie to members of the public with coded language designed to “enrage” and give rise to the most base of emotions, hate. They energize deep seated fears of anything different thereby stoking the flames of intolerance, hated, racism, trans/homophobia and anti-Semitism. Then they claim that “we” are being “replaced.’ But the real question is “Who” the “We” is? Undertones of “theocratic white supremacy” quickly rise to the surface.

    Now that the CRT argument has been debunked, they have found a new acronym they intend to use this fall – SEL or SHE for “Social Emotional Learning,” a learning theory that has been in existence and has been used in some form in K-12 for almost 100 years.

    Social and emotional health is developing the capacity to form secure relationships, experience and regulate emotions, and explore and learn. Social development refers to a child’s ability to establish and maintain close relationships with adults and other children. Emotional development is a child’s ability to express and manage emotions. In young children, these two types of development are intricately linked. Social and emotional health affects children’s overall development. Those who develop strong social and emotional skills tend to be happier, are more motivated to learn and perform better academically. Children who struggle with social-emotional development are more likely to have trouble following directions, have low self-esteem and do poorly in school. There can be lifelong consequences.

    But the false spin they will put on SEL is that its hidden purpose is molding children’s beliefs and “deconstructing” the values parents seek to instill in order to obliterate traditional sexual morality and even biological sex in children’s minds

    These well-funded minority groups will use every lie and misstatement of fact to force their viewpoint on the masses. They make false claims about a health and fitness curriculum handed down by the State when the curriculum has yet to be written in the local communities. They trash the most basic rights of our country, the First Amendment Right or Free speech, calling for the banning of books and when the books are not removed, they merely steal them from the libraries. They claim that school boards lack transparency but when asked what exactly is being hidden from them, they have no answer. School Board meetings are all done in public and proposed curriculum are posted for parent review.

    Now these groups has truly gone off the deep end with their latest claim that our teachers, the professionals we have trusted to educate our children for decades, are “pedophiles” who have a hidden agenda to “sexualize” our children and “groom” them for “sex trafficking.” The audacity of these claims is only topped by the fact that the indoctrination that these groups claim is happening is in fact the same propaganda tactic these groups are doing themselves. Their latest weapon, a slickly produced pseudo-documentary entitled “Whose Children Are They?” that they are shopping throughout New Jersey, is merely a fantastical attack on teachers unions claiming the unions control the school and repeating the outlandish claims of pedophilia, grooming and sex trafficking. But most of their arguments are replete with claims about “sexuality” and “Replacement Theory.’

    The stated goal of these radical right organizations is to get as many of their misguided parents to run for and win school board elections and then force our “public schools” to accept their minority narrow-minded views and force it upon all of our children. To instill their hatred in our public school and upon our children with the eventual goal of de-funding education or at the very least, use tax-payer money to pay for their religious schools.
    So how is it that these groups are accomplishing their goal? The seminal US Supreme Court case, Citizens United vs. FCC, opened the floodgates of “dark money” into political campaigning.

    New Jersey school board elections appeared to be shielded from political funding and dark money, as these campaigns have always been and were intended to remain “nonpartisan.” Our legislature and the Department of Education rightly understood that a candidate for school board should not have political concerns or bias. Members of the Board of Education should only be concerned with maintaining the best education for all children, and making sure that such education is one free from political, theocratic and ideological bias. However, as seen during schools board elections this past November, this has begun to change.

    In addition to the millions of dollars of “dark money” pouring into our state to promote their radical agenda, county Republican committees have now openly indicated that they intend to recruit candidates and provide help with their campaign planning, fundraising and compliance. The Morris County Republican Committee, for example, has even set up a website, MorrisCountyFirst.com, specifically designed to do this. Can actual political funding be far behind?
    While the New Jersey Commissioner of Education frowns upon the politicization of school board elections, it appears that the only New Jersey statute that addresses the issue is the School Ethics Act (N.J.S.A. 18A12-21 et seq.), and there is a glaring incongruity and two “loopholes” in the act that need to be closed. The Act specifically prohibits the solicitation or acceptance of political contributions or anything of value. N.J.S.A. 18A-12:24(e) indicates:
    No school official or candidate or member of his immediate family, or business organization in which he has an interest, shall solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing him, directly or indirectly, in the discharge of his official duties. (emphasis added)

    However, the very next clause totally eviscerates the first:
    This provision shall not apply to the solicitation or acceptance of contributions to the campaign of an announced candidate for elective public office, if the school official has no knowledge or reason to believe that the campaign contribution, if accepted, was given with the intent to influence the school official in the discharge of his official duties; (emphasis added)
    There are two glaring problems with the Act as it stands. It gives the school board member the ability to merely say that he or she was unaware they were being influenced. If they claim to be unaware, they can get away with accepting the contributions and avoid a claim that they have violated Ethics. This clause needs to be removed.

    Second, the act itself does not apply to “school board candidates” running for the first time because the definition of a “school official” does not include “school board candidates.”
    As it stands, there is nothing to stop dark money, a political party or political organization from running and funding an entire campaign for an endorsed candidate. If this statute is not amended to preserve the nonpartisan nature of school board elections, this will become commonplace across the state and in fact, it is already happening. As previously noted, the actions of the Morris County Democratic Committee are already designed to exploit these loopholes.

    School Boards and School Board members are duty bound to have the interest of our school children as priority one. Making sure that they receive the best education possible; One that is not adulterated by political bias or theocratic positions.

    The most important place to ensure the separation of “Church and State’ is when we are dealing with the education of our children. It is a parent’s choice to determine the religious education their child shall receive and parents have the option to place their children in a parochial school or even to home-school their children. They do not have the right to impose their beliefs on “every” child. Nor do radical right organizations have the right to use their millions of dollars to try and accomplish the same.

    The New Jersey School Ethics Act must be amended to preserve the nonpartisan sanctity of our school board elections and our school, and to prevent meddling by the Dark Money forces that are pushing extreme minority viewpoints into our independent places of education.

    Michael A. Gottesman, Attorney (Retired)
    Founder, New Jersey Coalition for Protection of Public Education
    Former Adjunct Professor of Law – William Paterson University, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Passaic County Community College
    Vice President, Wayne VOAD
    Member, Wayne CERT
    Member, Wayne Schools Security Committee
    94 Independence Ave, Wayne, NJ 07470
    Michael A. Gottesman,Attorney (Retired)94 Independence AveWayne, New Jersey 07470Tel. (973) 633-1769  Fax. (973)633-7960  Cell Phone (973) 715-0986E-mail – misterg16@gmail.com Employment & RelevantExperiencePROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCELaw Office of Michael A. Gottesman (Retired)                                                                                                                       1982 – 2014Admitted to Practice in the Courts ofThe State of New Jersey & United States District CourtClifton & Wayne, New JerseyCommercial& residential real estate transactions including drafting, negotiation andadministration of leases and development agreements; Drafting and negotiationof security agreements; Negotiation, drafting and administration of contractsand complex agreements; Lender representation in secured transactions includingdrafting of security agreements, guarantees, promissory documents, securityagreement filings, litigation, foreclosure and collection; Financialmanagement; Litigation and litigation management; Collections.
    Prudential Insurance Company – Financial Professional                                                                                                               2010 – 2015Warren & Rockaway, New Jersey      Sell insurance and investment products; Solicit new customers through approvedtechniques and methods; Conserve existing insurance and investments products;Service the insurance and investment needs of all owners of policies issued.Prospect for clients, develop insurance and investment programs and make salespresentations regularly for a broad range of life and non-life insurancecontracts and financial products and services sold by Prudential Financialcompanies. Propose insurance and investment products. Make the necessaryadjustments in the policyholder’s portfolios. Maintain records of account, andrender a report of all business transacted and complete accounting of allmonies received on behalf of Prudential Financial companies. Conform to andabide by the procedures, Prudential and regulatory bodies.
    Lawyers cooperative publishing Co.   (Division of West Group) – Editor                           1994- 1997Creation,revision and updating of legal forms, explanatory text and annotations for NewJersey Forms (Legal & Business) and New Jersey Pleading & PracticeForms.
    RETAIL EXPERIENCE  Whole Food Market                                                              March 2015 –December 2017Team Member/ Buyer/Specialist/AssistantManager/Manager – Prepared Foods/Deli Dept.Co-Chair –TIMECommittee Morristown,Montclair, Clark, New Jersey     Provide overall leadership to the Prepared Foods team. Responsible for allaspects of daily operations including profitability, expense control, buying,merchandising, labor, regulatory compliance and special projects as assigned.Accountable for Team Member hiring, development, corrective actions andseparations.
    BottleKing                                                                                                            2009 – 2010Assistant ManagerGlen Rock & Ramsay, New Jersey Effectivelyand efficiently managed the store; Provided leadership to, training of andinsured accountability of personnel; Communicated with customers and maintaineda high standard of customer service; Organized, planned and conducted winetastings on a weekly basis. Trained, developed and evaluated; Utilizedeffective interpersonal skills to resolve issues as they arose; Performed storerecovery tasks and housekeeping as needed; Monitored associate compliance withall policies, procedures and programs; Accurately processed all transactionsper company policy; Performed end of day POS duties; Performed all necessaryduties as “manager on duty” for store openings and closings. Prepared andedited local email content for transmission to existing customer base. Gary’s Wine &Marketplace                                                                                                           2008 – 2009Front End Manager/Gourmet Deli ManagerWayne, New Jersey Effectivelyand efficiently managed the store front end; Provided leadership to, trainingof and insured accountability of front end personnel; Evaluated, created andmodified front end policy to adjust to changing store needs; Communicated withcustomers and maintained a high standard of customer service; Trained,developed and evaluated front end personnel; Utilized effective interpersonalskills to resolve issues as they arose; Performed store recovery tasks andhousekeeping as needed; Monitored associate compliance with all policies,procedures and programs; Assisted customers with large and/or oversizedpurchases; Accurately processed all transactions per company policy; Validatedand processed returns per company policy; Prepared and reconciled registers;Performed end of day POS consolidation; Completed end of day reports for theaccounting department and general man & confirmed validity for loss preventionevaluation; Performed all necessary duties as “manager on duty” for storeopenings and closings. Prepared and edited local email content for transmissionto existing customer base. TraderJoe’s                                                                                                                          2007 – 200840-hour Key Holder (Department Manager)Safety Committee MemberWayne, New Jersey      Responsible for management, maintenance, ordering and marketing of the cheeseand refrigerated department including cut cheeses, sliced cheeses, deli meats,smoked fish, “grab-and-go”, dips, salsas, fresh prepared salads and assortedprepared fresh foods. Organized, planned and conducted product sampling andtastings on a weekly basis. Management and training of crewmembers relating tomaintenance of the department and proper presentation of product.Implementation of demonstrations and merchandising promotions of product.Analysis of changing customer demands necessitating modification of ordering.Maintenance of sufficient back stock and inventory controls to insuresufficient product for customer demand and minimum spoilage percentages.Maintaining high standard of customer service.  End of day POSconsolidation including cash and check deposits 
    Fairleigh Dickinson University                                                                                   2005 – 2008
    Adjunct Professor                                                           Paralegal Studies DepartmentMadison, New JerseyResponsibilitiesincluding lecture preparation and presentation; Student training on legalsoftware programs; Preparation and modification of curriculum and coursesyllabus; Preparation of daily assignments; Preparation of midterm and finalexaminations; Preparation of research assignments and projects; Interactionwith, evaluation of and feedback to students. William Paterson University                                                                                       2005 – 2009
    Adjunct Professor                                                             College of Business – Department of Law & AccountingWayne, New JerseyResponsibilitiesincluding lecture preparation and presentation; Preparation and modification ofcurriculum and course syllabus; Preparation of daily assignments; Preparationof midterm and final examinations; Preparation of research assignments andprojects; Interaction with, evaluation of and feedback to students.
    Passaic County Community College                                                                          2004 – 2008
    Adjunct Professor                                                Department of BusinessPaterson & Wanaque, New JerseyResponsibilitiesincluding lecture preparation and presentation; Preparation and modification ofcurriculum and course syllabus; Preparation of daily assignments; Preparationof midterm and final examinations; Preparation of research assignments andprojects; Interaction with, evaluation of and feedback to students. 
    DePaul Catholic High School –                                                                                         2004Long Term SubstituteTeacher                                                    Wayne, New JerseyResponsibilitiesincluding preparation and implementation of daily lesson plans; Implementationof innovative instructional strategies to obtain optimal achievement from andcomprehension in students; Student evaluation and testing; Preparations ofexaminations; Interaction with parents/guardians to foster a cooperativeapproach in education. EDUCATION Vanderbilt University School ofLaw                                                                   1979- 1982Nashville, TennesseeJuris Doctorate Duke University                                                                                                         1975- 1979Durham, North CarolinaBachelor of Arts Degree  Psychology/Anthropology ORGANIZATIONS New Jersey Coalition for Protectionof Public Education                         2022 – PresentFounder      A nonpartisan “Coalition” of educators, administrators,education professionals, municipal leaders and representatives as well asconcerned and involved parents designed to “Protect Our PublicSchools” from PACs and “Dark Money” seeking to disrupt andadulterate public education with hate, intolerance and racial bias and seekingto “whitewash” American history.  The Coalition sharesinformation and ideas to ensure that parents and advocates are informed andorganized in each municipality and prepared with information and defenses tooppose these groups and discredit them.
    Wayne Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster(VOAD)                        2011 – PresentVice President – Founding Member – Board Member      Volunteer organization created to provide aid to our fellowresidents during disasters. Coordinated donation system for items donated bylocal companies and individuals. Coordinated efforts to support displacedfamilies during Hurricanes Sandy & Irene. Coordinated and collecteddonations and distribution of supplies; Provided hot meals, essential suppliesand other support. Prepared, organized and operated the Wayne Township shelterfor the displaced in accordance with the Wayne Township OEM plan. Coordinatedand organized the “Wayne Concert for Volunteers” at Willowbrook Mall. Wayne Board ofEducation                                                                                                                    2005- 2009Member of School Safety/SecurityCommittee Township of Wayne, Human Relations Committee                                                 1994 – 1997Providing dispute resolution processfor residents of the local community through mediation/arbitration; Fostereddevelopment of interpersonal, negotiation & mediation skills. Duke Alumni Association Advisory Committee                                                     1990 – 2005Admissions Interviewer                                                                                                                       Interviewsof applicants for admission to Duke University; Critical analysis ofprospective applicants. 12 Miles West Theatre Company,Montclair,NJ                                                   2001 – 2003Member of Board of Directors andLegal Counsel
    New Jersey State Bar Association &                                                                    1979 – 1984Association of Trial Lawyers ofAmerica/ NJ           Active member of Civil Litigation& Real Estate, Probate & Trust Sections Certified Civil Mediator & Arbitrator                                                                  Superior Court of NewJersey                                   Mediation/arbitrationof pending complaints aimed at negotiation towards the amicable resolution ofclaims without judicial intervention. Certification required completion of thecourt sponsored “Mediation and Conciliation” skills program and continuingeducation and training. Early Settlement Panel, SuperiorCourt of New Jersey                                      Groupdecision-making process designed to identify issues in dispute and formulaterecommendations for resolution of financial issues in the marital dissolutionprocess.  References Furnished Upon Request 


    I am a 37-year resident of Wayne,New Jersey. A graduate of Duke University and Vanderbilt Law School. I am retired from the practice of law after 30 years running my own practice and representing individuals and business entities in a variety of areas. I am married to my partner, Stacey and have two children in their 30s, Janelle and Lauren. I have a 2-year-oldwonderful granddaughter, Adelle  I am the Vice President and a founder of Wayne VOAD, Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which has organized members of our township and local businesses to help families in need during times of flooding. We provided hot meals to hundreds of families and even delivered them to their homes when necessary. My wife and I personally ran our townships shelter for people who were displaced during flooding precipitated by hurricanes and tropical storms. I am also a member of the Wayne Citizens Emergency Response Team. I have served on the Wayne Township Human Resource Committee and the Wayne School District Security Committee. In my second career, after retirement from the practice of law, I worked as a manager for Trader Joe’s,Gary’s Wines & Marketplace and several Bottle King stores. My final place of employment was Whole Foods Market where I rose to the level of Prepared Foods Manager at several of their Regional stores. As you can see, I have quite the varied background. Currently I am retired and have now dedicated myself to protecting our Public Schools from a radical right agenda and dark money forces. I hope that this description of my background will help you to be comfortable with my taking the lead in this fight. So what is the “Coalition?

    THE NEW JERSEY COALITION FOR PROTECTION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION is a “Coalition” of educators,administrators, education professionals, municipal leaders and representatives as well as concerned and involved parents. It is a totally non-partisan organization. Our goal is to “Protect Our Public Schools” from PACs and “Dark Money” who seek to disrupt and adulterate our children’s education with hate, intolerance and racial bias.Who seek to “whitewash” American history.  We share information and ideas to ensure that parents and advocates are informed and organized in each municipality and prepared with information and defenses to oppose these groups and discredit them. It is a “representative”form of Coalition designed to have 2 people from each municipality to serve as conduits of information and ideas, in both directions. We share information on how the Dark money forces are inserting themselves into and attacking local school boards. We are creating a working model of the opposition’s “playbook” so that we can anticipate when they will be inserting themselves into the discussion at the local level. We know that“Dark Money” has employees on payroll whose only job is to watch BOE meetings on the internet and determine the optimal point of insertion of their operatives.   By creating this model, it allows us to meet their first entry head-on; when they send out their first anonymous post-card or email. It allows us to challenge that first hired-gun speaker they insert into the conversation. It allows us to call out that speaker at the meeting as an outsider; with no connection to the school district; who is trying to tell the parents that they, the outsiders,know better how the schools should be run; and it allows us to demand that they tell us who is paying for them to be there that night.We have also created defenses and informal scripts that can be used to disassemble and discredit each and every argument and piece of misinformation the opposition submits at board meetings. Everything from CRT, to the newest nonsense that teachers are”pedophiles” and are “grooming” our children. We can “short-circuit”their playbook from the beginning.

    We have recently started a “legislative initiative” calling for amendments to the “School Ethics Act” to maintain the nonpartisan nature of School Board Elections and to prevent Political parties, organizations and PACs from funding and running the campaigns of candidates. Finally,we have developed a “road-show” that we can take to the individual municipalities or to countywide meetings where we teach parents and local advocates:  1) how to tear apart and discredit the arguments made by the opposition; 2) how to examine the new health & fitness/sex-ed curriculum,analyze it by grade level and discuss how each element will actually be introduced into the classroom, so we can dispel the lies; and 3) provide the parents with actual informal scripted defenses that work.The organization has two prongs. The first is our grassroots campaign made up of our current and future representatives from each municipality and the other local parents and advocates that support them. The second is our ever growing list of collaborative organizations. Organizations like the NJEA and their Center for Honest Education, the NJ LGBTQ Democratic Caucus, Women for Progress, Garden State Equality and many others.

  3. The right loves to virtue signal about “free speech” “fighting censorship” not coddling students with “safe spaces” or letting them act like “snowflakes” who get offended by anything they disagree with.

    These bogus lawsuits reveal as clear as day what they really mean.

  4. I feel like it’s the epitome of White Privilege to complain about teaching and learning of systematic injustice within an education system.
    People who have the wealth to live in Mountain Lakes have often benefitted from such inequities either directly or as gains from prior generations.

  5. The white fragility is strong with this one. Grow up and accept the importance of learning our cultural past: both the good and the bad. I’d be embarrassed to be associated with this family.

  6. Why not include a link to the complaint so that we can see for ourselves what is alleged. I’m not really interested in your interpretation of it.

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