By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank Charter School parents packed a board meeting Tuesday night to protest the firings of two teachers who briefly left a sleeping child behind during a fire drill earlier this month.
The school’s two pre-kindergarten teachers, Alison Weiler and Nicole Navarrete, were terminated several days after the February 3 fire drill, a move that parents characterized as an overreaction.
Parents said the firings had left their children confused and upset that teachers they’d become attached to had suddenly vanished. They also vented about what they said was inadequate communication about the issue.
“My daughter asks me every night what happened to her teachers,” said Adrian Lopez. “I have no response to her. There’s no closure. I feel there’s a connection there that’s been disrupted.”
Corinda Bravo said Weiler and Navarrete had helped her daughter, who suffers from general anxiety and separation anxiety, “feel safe.”
School officials have not publicly acknowledged the firings. Head of School Kristen Martello told redbankgreen by email last week that she “can’t comment on personnel matters, nor give details on particular emergency preparedness drills.”
Weiler said the fire drill began when the two pre-K classroom aides were at their scheduled lunch. She and Navarrette quickly assembled their students “and got them out the door.”
Once outside, “we counted the children and saw that there were 18 instead of 19,” she said.
“Immediately, an adult went back and got the child,” she said.
“It is my understanding that a fire drill is an opportunity to discover problems, or potential problems, and to identify strategies to correct these problems,” Weiler said. “I acknowledge there was a short-term issue that had to be addressed, but we addressed the problem appropriately and promptly.”
Weiler, who started teaching at the school in 2016, had received only “high evaluations and positive feedback,” she said. But she was fired despite having “virtually no discussion of the incident with Dr. Martello,” she said.
The firings, she said, would have “severe impacts” on her career and Navarrete’s, as well as on their students.
Navarrete did not speak at the meeting, for which about a dozen parents jammed into the school’s library.
Mark Gregory, the father of the child left behind, told redbankgreen he learned of the incident immediately, and that his daughter been alone for “one to two minutes.”
Neither he nor his wife were upset about what happened or had “any animosity” toward Weiler and Navarrete, he told the board.
“It’s a fire drill. It’s a learning experience,” Gregory said. “We love our kids’ teachers.”
Volunteer firefighter Matt DePonti said he was unaware until the meeting of the reason his pre-K sons’ teachers had been terminated. All he knew of the matter came from a vaguely worded school announcement sent home in his son’s backpack, he said.
“The letter said absolutely nothing, but two new names I’ve never heard are now in charge of his class,” DePonti said. “That is not official notification, if you ask me.”
He called the manner in which the change was handled “disgraceful,” and said it only prompted speculation without providing clear information.
DePonti also defended Weiler and Navarette’s actions during the fire drill, adding, “whoever went back into the building for that child is a hero.”
Adjourning the public portion of the meeting to discuss unspecified personnel and contract matters behind closed doors, board of trustees Chairman Eric Wagner told the attendees that “the board is not able to respond to” comments and questions about personnel.