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Pleasantville school board ousts president, puts superintendent on paid leave

A volatile Pleasantville Board of Education meeting ended with a potential interim superintendent, a new board president and, in then end, not enough members remaining in attendance for a quorum.
Solicitor Lester Taylor was also fired briefly, but then kept on while the board searches for his replacement.
The meeting started with Superintendent Nataki Chestnut-Lee being put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into several questions that have been raised about the school district’s leader.
The move comes days after Chestnut-Lee held a press conference claiming a faction of the board was trying to get rid of her.
She told those gathered Friday that she was calling on the Attorney General’s Office and FBI to investigate the district.
But it’s Chestnut-Lee who needs to be investigated, board member Jerome Page said before the vote against her at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The move was sparked by a 94-page complaint filed by former board member James Pressley, which claims Chestnut-Lee lied on her application when she said she had never been fired or the subject of an investigation.
Chestnut-Lee previously told BreakingAC that her termination by her former district was overturned and she was allowed to resign. Her attorney sent cease-and-desist letters to board members.
But that didn’t stop the board from voting to go ahead with an investigation Tuesday.
Taylor informed the board that they should have warned Chestnut-Lee her employment would be discussed at the meeting, known as a Rice notice.
Members of the board previously signed a petition to Rice Chestnut-Lee, but it was stopped when the outgoing state monitor asked the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office to look into “inconsistencies” in the petition.
Before the vote Tuesday, board President Julio Sanchez said he wanted to make sure he protected himself.
“I don’t agree with this,” he said. “Our attorney advised us it’s illegal and improper to do it, and a majority of the board is forcing it to happen anyway.”
The board also voted to make Dr. Lapell Chapman interim superintendent, although they still need to have him agree and negotiate pay. Chapman is currently the High School’s principal.
Sanchez questioned that move as well, and accused some board members of meeting illegally, calling them minions.
“Have a little respect,” said board member Yadira Falcon, who was attending via video from the hospital.
“I’m nobody’s minion,” board member Sharnell Morgan said.
Sanchez tried to end the meeting, with the solicitor supporting the move, saying the agenda was created by the superintendent who was no longer there.
Page countered that since Chestnut-Lee had put the agenda in writing, and because she has not been fired, the board could still vote.
But those votes, which included outstanding bills, were never made.
Instead, the meeting devolved into several screaming matches that included Falcon pulling at her hospital gown, noting she was in the “f—— hospital” and Sanchez claiming Morgan had made a derogatory remark about special needs students.
“We all have emotions that God gave us,” board member Richard Norris said. “But no one has permission to be mean to each other and be nasty. It’s an embarrassment. We’re not respecting each other.”
“You’re right, Mr. Norris,” Falcon replied. “I apologize for cursing.”
She moved to have a no confidence vote against Sanchez and board Vice President Elysa Sanchez, the president’s sister.
“You can’t, it’s illegal,” Julio Sanchez said. “I haven’t failed to do my duties.”
By that time, board member Cassandra Clements had already quietly left the meeting.
The vote proceeded, with Elysa Sanchez and Richard Norris voting no, and Julio Sanchez abstaining.
The remainder of the board, including Anny Melo and Alejandrina Alberto voted yes.
Page then moved for Julio Sanchez to be removed as president, which passed by the same vote.
Morgan then was voted the new president.
At that point, Norris and both Sanchezes also left the meeting.
By time Morgan took the seat Julio Sanchez vacated, Falcon had dropped off the Zoom call, leaving the group without a quorum and ending the meeting.
A special meeting is expected to be scheduled for next week to vote on the agenda that wasn’t handled Tuesday.

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