Activists, Parents Cry Foul at Troubled, Mostly Minority New Jersey Middle School
One year after a science teacher allegedly called students the N-word, Penns Grove Middle School is facing the wrath of community activists and parents.
A Carneys Point Police report made public by activist and former school board member Walter Hudson, revealed disturbing phone calls from the middle school vice principal to a 15-year-old who attends the nearby high school.
The report revealed that Penns Grove Middle School Vice Principal Abner Mendoza telephoned the minor several times. While the report did not disclose the nature of the conversation, it was clear that the student was troubled by the repeated calls.
When the student asked how Mendoza obtained her phone number, Mendoza allegedly replied, “I have my ways.”
The child’s concerned parents reported the incident, but authorities concluded that Mendoza had not broken any laws.
However, local activists said it isn’t the first time that Mendoza has acted inappropriately, and the phone calls violated District policy.
Many also were upset that District officials failed to notify parents about the incident. They pointed out that District officials took the same stand a year ago with Penns Grove Middle School Science Teacher Bruce Bassetti.
The District suspended Bassetti after he allegedly walked away from a group of disruptive students, saying, “I’m not trying to deal with these n*****.”
District Superintendent Zenaida Cobian told the Black Press that Bassetti’s situation was “a personnel matter.” She declined to explain further why parents weren’t notified. Cobian has not responded to multiple messages regarding Mendoza, who allegedly has a checkered history in the District.
“This is not the first time he has preyed on minors at the high school,” activist and former school board member Walter Hudson stated. “While he worked as a Spanish teacher, Mendoza received a promotion from Cobian instead of firing him for violating school policy. It’s a complete outrage,” Hudson stated.
At a school board meeting on Monday, February 10, Hudson called for Mendoza’s termination. According to Hudson, Cobian had previously stated that the matter would be handled internally. Hudson and others have also pointed to racism as a reason why Cobian has failed to take action.
“Look at the makeup of the area. Look at the District, and that should tell you why it’s not important to punish predators, and it’s not important for the District to inform parents,” stated Sylvester Monroe, whose six children were products of the Penns Grove-Carneys Point School District.
Nestled along the Delaware River near the state border, Penns Grove is one of America’s forgotten towns. One of its claims to fame is actor Bruce Willis, who was born and raised in the small town of about 5,500.
Approximately 72 percent of the residents are Black or Hispanic, while Whites make up 28 percent.
The unemployment rate in Penns Grove is 5.4 percent, compared to the 3.9 percent national average. Approximately 48 percent of children live in a single-parent household.
The middle school has about 458 students and a 10.6-to-1 student/teacher ratio. Like the area demographics, 72 percent are Black or Hispanic, while 28 percent of students are White.
The school is ranked 657 out of all 742 New Jersey middle schools. More than 71 percent of the students qualify for free or discounted lunch, and nearly 30 percent of residents live at or below the federal poverty line.
In 2019, Penns Grove Middle School ranked worse than 88.5 percent of middle schools in New Jersey. Less than 11 percent of students met or exceeded statewide averages on test scores.
“So, you look at the numbers, and you know that the kids in the District are easy targets for discrimination and for a school district that can easily neglect to notify parents or even carrying out the law because they know not much attention will give given,” Monroe stated.
Most importantly, Hudson stated that inaction on the part of the District as it pertains to Mendoza could prove disastrous.
“This is the reason why young girls do not come forward to report any type of sexual assault, abuse, or molestation and rape,” Hudson stated. “A system that is set up to protect them is not protecting them at all.”