By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

The independent consultant hired by the Montclair school district earlier this month is investigating a complaint alleging discriminatory statements made by a Montclair school district staff member.

“The Montclair Board of Education is aware of a complaint alleging discriminatory statements made by a member of our staff,” board President Latifah Jannah said at a Monday board meeting. “This board is committed to creating an open and inclusive environment for all staff and students.” 

Board members are limited in what they can say about personnel matters, but information will be provided to the public in the future if deemed legally appropriate, Jannah said Monday.

The board approved an independent consultant contract March 2 for an in-district investigation with Charles Ford, at the rate of $150 per hour, capped at $10,000 without additional board approval. No additional information about the investigation was provided in the agreement. 

On June 21, the board approved a similar contract — hiring Nicholas Cipriano to investigate a 32-page self-described “whistleblower” letter by Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Robert H. Kelley IV claiming an abusive work environment in Montclair schools. Kelley additionally alleged some managers lied to state officials about health and safety issues, and that they neglected repairs while scapegoating other staff. That investigation was completed in August.

The findings of Cipriano’s investigation remain confidential, but the investigation found a disrespectful work environment that fostered negativity and cultural insensitivity, Ponds said at a Nov. 22 school board meeting.

Cipriano was paid $28,930 for the investigation, according to an August bill report by the district

Around the same time, Cipriano was hired as the Montclair school district’s business administrator and school board secretary. He replaced Emidio D’Andrea, one of the district employees he investigated. 

Cipriano was absent from the Monday board meeting.  

There is a Charles Ford who currently serves as superintendent of the Monmouth County Vocational School District. He has not yet responded to messages sent to his district email and office since March 10.  

Montclair Local is following up on a public information request to the Montclair school district seeking documents related to the investigation.