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Atlantic City school board meeting ends with questions and not enough members

Atlantic City’s Board of Education meeting ended abruptly Tuesday night, after several members logged off before the executive session.
The move left the 10-member body without a quorum and the public without answers it was promised.
Questions raised during the public portion included the status of the search for a new superintendent and why one board member’s vote was being barred.
At last month’s reorganization meeting, board solicitor Tracy Riley said the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office had information that Hossain no longer lives in Atlantic City.
At that meeting, she took the unusual step of barring the board secretary from recording Hossain’s vote.
When she made the move again Tuesday, Hossain took issue with it.
“With all due respect, who gave you the authority?” Hossain asked Riley. “People voted me in for three years. What right do you have?”
Riley then told Hossain that he has an attorney and that she would be discussing the issue in executive session.
“We have some issues that we need to discuss in closed session,” school board President Shay Steele said. “I think the board will have more clarity after closed session after (Riley) presents her information.”
But Riley never had the chance.
Her decision to exclude Hossain from the closed meeting apparently had a ripple effect.
“He might not be allowed to vote, but he’s allowed to be in executive session,” board member Al Herbert said.
“With all due respect, it’s my position that he’s not,” Riley replied.
“Well, with all due respect, I got my second COVID shot today and I think I’m getting a fever, so I’ll see all you guys at the next meeting,” Herbert said, before clicking off of the Zoom session.
A short time later, Kazi Islam told the board secretary that he needed to go out for about an hour and would come back.
About an hour later, the board came back on the public stream with the explanation that there wasn’t a quorum after member John Devlin left and board member Subrata Chowdhury didn’t come to the meeting.
A vote that would discontinue the search for a new superintendent was planned for after executive session.
But, since the close-door discussion didn’t happen, the meeting just ended.
Earlier in the meeting, a question about the search’s status gave brief insight into the issue, which looks to replace retiring Superintendent Barry Caldwell.
Principals Lakecia Hyman and Shelley Williams asked where things stood.
That gave an opening for Devlin to ask why Caldwell — who sets the agenda — has placed a vote to halt the search.
Devlin said the search committee had basically narrowed the field down to three candidates, including two in-house.
It was later indicated that Hossain being a member of that same committee may have been the issue.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first to be able to go forward in five planned meetings.
Last month, three meetings in less than three weeks failed to reach a quorum.
Then, a meeting scheduled for Feb. 4 — postponed from Jan. 26 — had to be canceled after Riley warned that the public had not been properly notified.
The meeting came as students and teachers prepare to return to hybrid schooling next week. Atlantic City had some in-person school at the end of last year. But then teachers started calling out after the administration ignored their calls that the school buildings were not safe.
That was just one of the heated debates that highlighted the heavy division within the board.
Another was then-board President John Devlin’s call for an independent investigation into how the district handled issues with a now-admitted child pornographer.
Ka’yan Frazier was fired from working in the district in 2017, after then-Pennsylvania Avenue School Principal La’Quetta Small raised questions about his interaction with students outside of school.
The board’s renewed interest in that case sparked a tort claim from Small and her husband, Mayor Marty Small, who claims the move was political.
That case was also on the board’s closed-session agenda.

(Note: This story originally ran Jan. 16 as a preview of the meeting.)

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