Questions remain as Atlantic City school board readies to choose Small as superintendent
Atlantic City’s school board will decide Tuesday whether Dr. La’Quetta Small will be the district’s next superintendent.
A special meeting is set for 6 p.m.
The current Atlantic City High School principal has long been the expected choice even as she has faced lawsuits and an internal investigation connected to the employment of her cousin, a now-convicted child pornographer.
Ka’yan Frazier was working as a substitute teacher at Pennsylvania Avenue School when he met and groomed his victim. Small was the school’s principal at the time.
A lawsuit alleges the abuse even happened in the home Small shares with her husband, Mayor Marty Small.
Frazier, who is now serving a nearly 21-year prison sentence, was named as one of three reasons the Board of Education’s president gave for scrapping the first superintendent search that cost the district $25,000.
But Small wasn’t even a candidate in that search, BreakingAC has confirmed.
It was vendor Gary McCartney whose involvement board President Shay Steele questioned.
“Dr. McCartney was the state monitor when we had the unfortunate alleged incident with Mr. Frazier,” Steele said at the June 28 board meeting. “(He) will certainly be under scrutiny for being monitor at the time of the alleged incidents.”
But McCartney was never mentioned in any other discussions of Frazier. He also is not named in any of the lawsuits connected to the case or in the 290 pages of emails the school district provided to BreakingAC as part of a records request.
Instead, it’s Small who has been the focus of much of the discussions, including a lawsuit filed by the victim’s mother, identified only as Jane Doe.
The woman claims the Smalls failed to protect the child.
An independent investigation the school board approved into Frazier’s employment and his 2017 termination has stalled for the second time after the bill surpassed the $100,000 threshold.
A private meeting is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the outstanding balance, BreakingAC has learned.
It’s unclear if the investigation would restart even if the bill is settled, since no additional funds have been approved.
That is just one of several questions that continue to plague the superintendent search, which has included ethics violations sanctioned by board solicitor Tracy Riley.
The board president is conflicted from even participating in the search because both his wife and father work for the district.
Despite that, Steele took a lead role, including handpicking the six-member committee that has now nominated Small.
Steele also canceled the first search after it had been whittled down to three candidates.
Many behind the scenes claim the moves were made to clear the way for Small to become the school district’s new leader.
Small was not part of that original search, after missing the deadline to apply, multiple sources told BreakingAC.
Now, the board is set to vote on her nomination while down a member after Farook Hossain abruptly resigned his seat this month without giving reason.
Hossain was the target of an investigation sparked by outgoing Superintendent Barry Caldwell, who claimed Hossain and his wife lied on the application for free lunches for their children.
They are now being sued by the district for that money and their children’s tuition amid allegations they were no longer city residents.
Hossain, who was part of the original superintendent search committee, had been vocal in his questioning of the current leadership, including a contract extension Caldwell received as the result of the stalled search.
Caldwell was supposed to retire in June. His contract extension came after a salary cap was lifted, resulting in a nearly 12½ percent raise.
Hossain also was one six members who voted to launch the independent investigation into Frazier’s employment. Only four of those members remain on the board.
State-appointed monitor Carole Morris questioned the legality of the investigation, saying she was going to seek outside counsel. She never made further public comment on it.
After Frazier was fired in 2017, he was investigated by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, who found no wrongdoing. DCPP then hired him with a recommendation by then-district employee Tameisha Purnell. He was still working for DCPP when he was arrested in 2019.
Last year, the Atlantic City school board decided to look into how the issue was handled. The mayor called the timing political.
The investigation stalled in late April, after the Porzio, Bromberg & Newman firm surpassed the initial $50,000 cap.
But after the boy’s mother sued and the cased garnered renewed public attention, the board voted for an additional $50,000.
The suit alleges Small should have been aware of her cousin’s actions, and that the boy was even abused in the Smalls’ home.
“Frazier used Ms. Small’s home, without her knowledge, to sexually abuse plaintiff,” Small’s attorney writes in his motion to dismiss the Doe case. “Though Frazier resided with Ms. Small for an unknown period of time, there are no facts pled that she was in any position to discover any risk posed by Frazier or that she created the condition for any abuse to occur.”
Attorney Jeffrey Shanaberger said he would not comment on the pending litigation outside of the submissions filed in court.
By Small’s own timeline, she waited nearly two months to report that Frazier was having outside contact with the student.
She said she first learned of it in December 2016, but didn’t file a report until Feb. 24, 2017.
But Doe’s suit claims Small’s son went on the outings with Frazier, that began around May or June of 2016. The first sleepover in fall of 2016 also allegedly included Small’s son.
Regardless of that timeline, Small had already quietly removed her cousin from Pennsylvania Avenue School by Dec. 13, 2016.
On that date, the school’s secretary emailed the company that provided the district’s substitutes asking them to remove Frazier from the long-term floater position he had. It gives no reason.
An hour later, Small emailed to say Frazier was not working at the school but was “not able to remove himself from that position to accept other openings.”
That email seems to have cleared the way for Frazier to continue working within the district, just not at his cousin’s school. He later substituted at Uptown Complex, Sovereign Avenue, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Complex and Texas Avenue.
An email Frazier sent Small on Jan. 5, 2017, indicates something else may have happened in December.
“The situation at the school put you in an awkward position I understand and respect that,” he wrote. “However I feel as though you didn’t fight for me, not as your cousin but as a guest in the building who has helped almost every staff and student there.”
A woman is referenced in the email, but her name was redacted in the copy sent to BreakingAC.
“The situation with Ms. (redacted) occurred and I ended it the day we had a conversation at your house,” he writes. “Then later I’m caught off guard with accusations that I’ve been ‘still causing trouble’ when in actuality I was no where near any of that.”
What that alleged trouble is not clear in the email.
Frazier ends by saying, “I truly miss the vibe there and I know they miss me as well.”
It doesn’t appear Small answered the email, but she did forward it to the mayor’s private email writing, “FYI.”
This isn’t the first time questions have swirled around an appointment involving Dr. Small.
In 2019, Caldwell made Small principal at Atlantic City High School.
The move sent Lina Gil, the district’s first Hispanic principal, to Pennsylvania Avenue.
This sparked backlash from the Hispanic community, who filled the board meeting where the decision was confirmed that May. Caldwell never gave details on why he made the swap.
PHOTO: Pictured around La’Quetta Small are (clockwise from top left) Board of Education President Shay Steele, outgoing Superintendent Barry Caldwell, board solicitor Tracy Riley, Ka’yan Frazier and state-appointed fiscal monitor Carole Morris.
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