The New Jersey School Ethics Commission on Tuesday recommended the removal of school board member Emanuel Capers for taking an all-expense paid trip to Arizona.
Ethics officials rejected administrative law judge Kimberly A. Moss’s legal conclusions that absolved Capers in Dec. 2019. Moss had ruled Capers did not violate any provisions of the Code of Ethics for School Board Members.
Capers violated three letters – C, E, and F — of the ethics code that deal with a board member acting independently, free from the influence of special interest, and without seeking personal gains, according to the New Jersey School Ethics Commission decision dated Mar. 17, 2020.
“I thank God for the truth finally coming out and that the School Ethics Commission in a well-thought-out decision recommended commissioner Capers be removed from office,” said James Smith, former security director for the Paterson Public Schools. “The School Ethics Commission has restored my faith in government.”
Smith had pursued the ethics charges against Capers even after school officials decided to back off. He thanked superintendent Eileen Shafer and former school board president Oshin Castillo for launching the investigation into Capers’ trip. “They knew in their heart that this was a violation,” he said. “I can only speculate why they had a change of heart and why they now expect private citizens to conduct investigations on board members.”
Capers questioned the New Jersey School Ethics Commission’s decision-making process that led to their conclusion that he violated the school ethics law.
“What fact was it based upon? They have no facts supporting their decision,” said Capers. “Am I upset with their decision? Yes, I am.”
Ethics commissioners considered three penalties — reprimand, a non-public admonishment, and removal — for Capers.
“The Commission recognizes that removal is the harshest form of penalty and, as such, reserves it for the most extreme of cases. In this case, the Commission believes that removal is the only penalty that can be recommended to the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner),” reads the decision. “If the Commission does not recommend the harshest form of penalty available, namely removal, neither board members nor administrators would be deterred from accepting a gift, of whatever value, from a current vendor, prospective vendor, or hypothetical vendor.”
Furthermore, the decision states, “if school officials are permitted to accept even a nominal gift without the threat of removal, there is nothing which would prohibit the unethical acceptance of gifts.
Capers attended the Effective Schools Conference from Feb. 20-23, 2018 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley paid for by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s education company Woz U. Before returning from the trip, Capers found himself under investigation by the district. On Feb. 20, 2018, superintendent Eileen Shafer contacted Smith to determine whether Capers went on an unauthorized trip.
Capers wasn’t the only one offered the all-expense paid trip. Woz U offered four slots for school officials to travel to Arizona to learn more about its coding and drone programs. Shafer told her staff not to go, but Capers ignored her warning and went anyway. Capers has often argued he is not a school district employee, but an elected official. The superintendent serves in a subordinate role to the school board, he has said.
Capers on Friday afternoon said he intends to appeal the decision. He has 13 days to appeal the recommended penalty of removal and 30 days to appeal the findings of the commission.