Simmering bad blood between the teachers and administration hit a boiling point Tuesday night, when a microphone captured a remark by the superintendent.
“Bring your asses back to work,” Superintendent Barry Caldwell is heard saying during the public comment portion of the meeting, which was streamed via Zoom.
Caldwell later apologized, saying he had stepped out of the meeting and was in his office on his cell phone, repeating a conversation on the phone.
But that didn’t stop “get your asses back to work” from becoming the new battle cry for the Atlantic City Education Association.
Many were already frustrated before the meeting began, when the Zoom hit its maximum of 300 participants, and wouldn’t allow many teachers to join.
Then, Technology Director Michael Bird — who hosted the meeting — told participants he would have to end the meeting to restart because the board members who were attending virtually couldn’t get in.
Bird didn’t stop the meeting, though. Instead, his announcement led to about 60 people exiting the Zoom, making room for the board members.
Some teachers later said they were kicked off the meeting.
After the meeting, Bird sent a letter to those who signed up apologizing for the issues.
When public comment did start, Caldwell apparently left the dais at some point and went into his office.
A teacher was speaking when the superintendent’s voice could suddenly be heard, and the video briefly switched to his office.
Caldwell is seen standing in left edge of the screen while state monitor Carole Morris is sitting at his desk.
The superintendent’s right arm can be seen but it’s not clear if there is a phone in his left hand or not. He is wearing a mask.
The video quickly switched back.
The conversations in Zoom quickly jumped onto what just happened, with some unsure of what was said or who it was.
“Please address the situation that just happened,” Brighton Avenue School teacher Brenda Brathwaite said when it was her turn to speak for public comment. “A mistake was made today and it was disrespectful.”
She said while it hasn’t fully been clear where the issue have been coming from in the district, “I think the display of the language in the background shows it might be from the top down.”
Caldwell did address the issue.
“It was inappropriate, it as unprofessional and it was conduct unbecoming,” he said. “I’d like to apologize to everyone who was on this meeting. This was not directed toward the staff or anyone in this room. It was something that should not have been said.”
Regardless of Caldwell’s intent, the Atlantic City Education Association’s Executive Committee said the language “shows his character and lack of care from our district leadership.”
The group issued a letter urging its members to take yet another sick day in protest of having students return to in-person learning in what they continue to insist are unsafe conditions.