Governor Phil Murphy called for the resignation of state Board of Education member Jack Fornaro over his controversial question asking whether Hispanic majority Paterson taught American history in its schools.
“My administration is committed to fostering a learning environment where all students are welcome. I will not support comments during school board meetings that fly in the face of New Jersey’s values,” Murphy said in a statement on Thursday night. “In light of Mr. Fornaro’s comments, I urge him to resign. Bias cannot be tolerated.”
Fornaro posed his controversial question at the May 1 state Board of Education meeting.
“Do you teach American history as a required course?” asked Fornaro.
“Yes,” replied superintendent Eileen Shafer, who was there for her annual presentation, a requirement for state takeover districts, to the state Board of Education.
Fornaro was “inquisitive” and wanted to know whether district schools taught American history given Paterson’s “high population” of Hispanics.
Paterson had 25,000 students enrolled in its schools last school year. 67-percent were Hispanic, 22-percent black, 5-percent white, and 5-percent Asian.
“How far back do you go? Do you go back to Independence? Or does it go after the Civil War. Where do you start?” asked Fornaro.
A district official answered by stating American history is covered from the Age of Exploration to today.
Fornaro’s exchange went unnoticed for 15 days until an audio recording emerged. His question was condemned by New Jersey senators Nellie Pou, who represents Paterson, and Teresa Ruiz, chairwoman of senate education committee, on Wednesday morning.
“We were not at the most recent State Board of Education meeting, but when we heard the audio recording, we found one line of questioning to be extremely insensitive. Board Member Jack Fornaro asked questions of Paterson School District which seemed to imply it does not teach American History due to the large Latino population in its schools,” Ruiz and Pou wrote in a letter to New Jersey education commissioner Lamont Repollet urging the Murphy administration to look into Fornaro’s “statements of prejudice.”
Fornaro has said he may have misspoken when he prefaced his question with Paterson’s large Hispanic population.
“I’m not that guy they are trying to make me out to be,” Fornaro told the Star-Ledger on Thursday before Murphy urged him to resign. “I am not a prejudiced person.”
Fornaro was appointed to the state Board of Education by former governor Chris Christie in 2011.