Internal Emails Between Lakewood Union President and Board Attorney: “Repulsive Conduct” or “Undocumented Allegations”?

For many New Jersey school districts today is opening day. What that day looks like — viewed through chromebooks, plexiglass and social-distancing, or a hybrid of the two — depends on your district’s reopening plan, which must be approved by the NJ Department of Education. According to the latest information about the 607 districts and other schools with approved plans, 354 are following a hybrid plan, 172 are going all-remote, 59 are in-person and 22 are implementing different models on a school-by-school basis. The DOE still has another 200 plans to wade through.

One of the 59 districts that chose full-time in-person instruction is Lakewood Public Schools, but that’s not the choice of Lakewood staff. To give you a sense of the drama, here’s a video at the top of this Asbury Park Press article of Lakewood Education Association President Kimberlee Shaw being chased by Board attorney Michael Inzelbuch in what looks an awful lot like an attempt to keep her away from reporters on the scene:

Below are two emails, the first from Ms. Shaw to Mr. Inzelbuch rejecting his apology for “bizarre, threatening, and repulsive conduct,” and then Inzelbuch’s response to “allegations” of staff regarding last week’s district reopening. Those allegation include “wildly inadequate” PPE, broken air-conditioning, unsanitary conditions, etc.

Later correspondence (not included here) includes a list from LEA of these \ problems and then a response from Inzelbuch saying everything’s been fixed. The emails below are “as is,” without any editing.

LEA Letter to Inzelbuch

To: Michael Inzelbuch
Cc: Laura Winters; Moshe Bender; Ahearn, Kevin; [email protected]; Daniel Regenye; David Shafter; Keith Waldman; [email protected][email protected]; Jennifer Raike; [email protected]; Dawn Hiltner; LEA Office
Subject: Re: Certifications

Good afternoon Mr. Inzelbuch,

I am in receipt of your September 1st  late evening email.

First let me begin by saying that I do not and cannot accept your apology for the bizarre, threatening, and repulsive conduct that you displayed towards me at the Lakewood Middle School the morning of September 1st.  With a mask hanging off of your chin, you chased me and got into my personal space while I was attempting to speak with members of the press, all while loudly yelling and belittling me and the LEA.  You were deliberately attempting to interfere with the first amendment rights of the LEA and its membership.  Every Lakewood resident should be embarrassed by your aggressive and harassing antics.  I can assure you that LEA membership, past and present, are.  

Since the start of school on September 1st, the LEA’s worst fears have quickly become a reality.  The District has not only failed to provide a healthy and safe environment but it has become overwhelming apparent that the district’s restart plan is not being implemented in real time as it is outlined on paper.  You say the district is safe, but your words do not match the reality of the situation.

The situation is far worse than LEA membership could have ever thought possible.  For the past two days, the membership has documented violation after violation of the District’s restart plan and the conditions of all the District’s buildings, which are deplorable. It has been reported to us that the PPE given out has been wildly inadequate; that plexiglass has been installed by staff who are not wearing masks; that the plexiglass installed is inadequate, unstable, and has even injured staff; that schools have not been properly cleaned, with desks still dirty and boards still written on from last year; and that the air conditioning has completely broken down at multiple schools already this week, halting crucial air flow which helps prevent the virus from spreading.  A more exhaustive list is attached, but these are just a few clear examples of the conditions in which you are forcing our members to work, and the students to learn, full time, at full capacity and in very tight quarters.  

Enough is enough.  The District’s blatant disregard for the personal well-being of the staff and students will not be tolerated.  No one should ever be expected to work under such conditions, risking their life in the process.

It is also very clear that the District has not been engaging in good faith negotiations as to these critical health and safety issues.  Every attempt made by the LEA to meet has been met with some type of antic orchestrated by you and the Board.  At the start of the summer you adamantly and repeatedly refused to meet with us by Zoom, offering – with a straight face – that you would meet with us in your living room at the height of the pandemic, when Covid-19 cases in Lakewood were off the charts, and when you had just appeared in a video removing your mask while interacting with thousands of people.  

Last Wednesday, August 26th, you squandered two hours of negotiations by pretending you could not hear us, only to miraculously be able to hear that we were going to end that pointless call after your act had carried on for long enough.  Based on your August 30th late evening email, your September 1st late evening email, and your September 2nd late evening text message, it is very clear that the District plans to reopen schools without the consideration of the LEA’s Leadership team, the LEA’s Health & Safety Committee, and the entire LEA membership. The LEA has expressed, on numerous occasions, the health and safety concerns of its membership as well as the Board’s failure to provide adequate protection during the current Covid-19 pandemic, regardless of your attempts to convince the public otherwise.  

The LEA is still waiting for the completed Building Ventilation Inspection Checklist that was provided to you on August 30th as well as the answers to the outstanding list of restart plan questions from the staff that were originally submitted on August 25th and updated on September 1st as you requested.  I have again attached the checklist and the updated questions to this email.  Please make every effort to actually answer the questions this time, rather than just make a feigned attempt to appease us as was done with the questions initially submitted on July 13th.  

Also attached is the LEA’s August 14th letter, in bulleted form which you requested, that speaks to a multitude of other health and safety items.  To date, these concerns continue to remain unresolved and as a result, place the staff, the students, and the community in immediate harm.

Your threat of legal action against the staff is most unfortunate, but not surprising.  Your continued pattern of intimidation and threats directed to the LEA and its members are not new to any of us.  Rather than resolve this issue by simply opening every building with a full day hybrid for 9 weeks, thereby ensuring the health and safety of all, you choose to create and foster an extremely hostile situation and an unhealthy and unsafe environment that places 750 LEA members and 6,600 public school children in immediate harm.  

We have spoken with our attorneys and we know our rights.  Our members reserve all of their rights against the district and its administrators who are issuing directives in reckless disregard of known threats to health and safety.  You and the district’s leadership are knowingly placing employees in harm’s way. If people get sick or lose their lives, you and the District’s leadership will be held personally accountable.

Now is the time to correct your egregious decision and move forward with a full day hybrid model for all public school buildings in the District.  If you fail to heed this warning and correct your decision, the sickness and deaths of employees, students, and community will lay at your feet.

Inzelbuch’s Response

September 3, 2020 – 5:18 p.m.

I am in a meeting as to a child with special needs  I represent  from Monmouth County who is preparing to sue that district for failing to provide any in person services   but did not want to delay my response .

First and foremost – I AGAIN apologize .

However, as you well know , your official belated and crafted response of 4:19 p.m. ( see below )   , unfortunately, does  NOT match what we in FACT  discussed on Tuesday, September 1, 2020   for close to 2 hours commencing around 11 :20 a.m.  in the auditorium of the High School

The aforementioned meeting  with Administration , one Board member , and myself  for close to 2 hours occurred only after the Union rejected any meetings since March  .      ( I note  only one Board member ,because you and the LEA refused to allow any Board Members nor the State Monitor to participate via zoom  despite them being ready willing and able to do so  .)

Should you dispute the cordial discussions and interactions you and  I had during that meeting  in the presence of more than 40 district personnel please let me know immediately  .  

You also neglect to mention that the District did offer to consider hybrid options  at the Middle School – but –  were met with the Union negotiator , Ms. Raike, who was on vacation (* according to you ), instructing all  via speaker phone in a most loud manner  that “it’s all or nothing. ”  

Also , I continue to join with the staff in expressing  concerns as to the current situation.

As to your allegations of the last 2 days – this is this is the first time I have learned of same .

also checked with the Superintendent  moments ago and she has not received any specific allegations as to what has , or has not ,occurred, in the last 2 days .

Please provide specific  information and documentation.

I can assure you that swift action and / or corrective planning/ etc.  will occur should specifics that can be verified are provided .    

As to alleged “ egregious actions”  , I am , as you know a mere local lawyer who earned my doctorate from St. John’s.

I am not a medical doctor nor do I insure anything .

As you also know we provided any and all information the State requires, and ,we invited ,on our initiative,  some 2 weeks ago the Department of Health to see in person  the Middle School and , prior, the location where more than 700 evaluations occurred for special needs and ELL learners , a much needed service for our public students  that you and the Union tried to stop , albeit, unsuccessfully.

As to your undocumented, and ,until your email of 4:19 p.m. , unknown allegations, I must note that the only people in the school buildings for the last 2 days were staff  who we  reasonably can  expect to follow our return to work policies   Can’t we ??? .  Nevertheless , please do provide the specific names of staff who , according to you , were not following expected and known procedures so a meaningfully review of guidelines  can be provided by our health and safety officials .  

Lastly,  the Board and Superintendent would welcome another in person meeting any time this evening ,   as previously offered .

My cell- as you know , remains – 732-96-0998 . You know the cell number that I texted to last evening .   

Looking forward to working on behalf of our 6400 plus students who despite our efforts NEED in person education  due to their unique socio- economic needs .    

As I was contacted by the media as to your email of 4:19 pm I provide them with a  copy of my response.

Please help us help our kdis nad staff.

MII

Lakewood High School graduate

Lakewood resident   

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