Piscataway, NJ — On Sunday, July 12, Piscataway students and parents chanted “shame” as they drove past the homes of each of the six members of the Board of Education who voted to remove popular BOE member Lt. Ralph Johnson days before. Sunday’s drive-by ‘Justice for Ralph’ protest went past the homes of Board President Shelia Hobson, Kimberly Lane, Nitang Patel, Brenda Smith, Calvin Laughlin, and Jeffrey Fields.
Re-elected to his third term last November by Township voters, Lt. Johnson was removed by those six members of the Piscataway Board of Education on trumped up attendance claims. At its July 9 meeting, the Board heard nearly an hour of public comment in support of Lt. Johnson, but voted to oust him anyway. Employed by the Essex County Correctional Police Department, Lt. Johnson was deemed an essential worker during the and missed two meetings due to his role as first responder during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Piscataway High School rising senior Juliet Pastras and recent graduate Zoe Scotto helped organize the rally.
“Mr. Johnson represented us in the community. He spoke for us, he represented us,” Pastras said.
Scotto, who served with Johnson in her capacity as the student representative to the Board of Education, said she wanted Lt. Johnson to know “the community has his back, and to show the school board members that we think they’re wrong” in removing him.
Scotto told TapInto Piscataway that, “she felt silenced in her role as Senior Student Representative to the Board, often not getting responses to her questions.”
Board President Hobson, who refused to address any of the comments made during the meeting, said Lt. Johnson’s telecommunications connectivity issues during one meeting, held by Zoom, constituted a third absence. Johnson is marked as having been in attendance for a portion of that meeting according to the Board’s own minutes.
State law permits, but does not require, a Board of Education to remove a member who has missed three consecutive meetings without good cause. Lt. Johnson and his supporters believe being a first responder during a global pandemic is more than good cause.
Parents and local residents have launched a legal fund to support Lt. Johnson that has raised over $2500 and a petition started this weekend already has hundreds of signatures. Lt. Johnson recently ran for Township Council in the July 7 Democratic Primary, as part of the Piscataway Progressive Democratic Organization slate.
It is not the first time Lt. Johnson has faced retribution from the local Democratic incumbents, led by State Senator Bob Smith and 20 year Mayor Brian Wahler, for being involved in elections. In 2017, after Lt. Johsnon ran as part of a challenger slate for the Assembly, Wahler removed Lt. Johnson from his volunteer position as a Pop Warner Coach.
“Today, I’m out here rallying for Ralph Johnson because I believe in doing what’s right,” said Matthew “Coach Burger” Fabian who has coached Pop Warner football alongside Johnson. “I don’t understand how we can vote a person off who’s trying to help, and shows that he is here to help. We want answers.”
Lt. Johnson will be pursuing all possible avenues to have his seat restored. His supporters say they will continue to press for justice for him.