2013-06-12 / Local News

Evesham School Trustee resigns position over alleged remarks

Rosemary Bernardi steps down from the Evesham school board and state association
JAYNE JACOVA FELD

Rosemary Bernardi, the Evesham Township trustee under fire for alleged anti-semitic remarks, tonight quit her positions on the local school board and the New Jersey School Boards Association.

In an email addressed to Evesham school officials, Bernardi announced her resignation effective immediately.

“This local issue has become a distraction for the board to fulfill its mission,” she stated. “There is an immediate need to shift the focus back onto the 4,700 public school children that we serve.”

Earlier in the day, the School Board Association issued a statement announcing her leave as the organization’s vice president for legislation/resolutions.

“We have received and accepted Ms. Bernardi’s resignation, which she tendered for the good of the Association,” wrote Association President John Bulina and Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod in a joint statement.  “Any other action would have been unacceptable.  Ms. Bernardi understands the negative impact that remaining in office would pose to the Association and its work on behalf of local boards of education and New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students.”

At issue were comments said by the three-term school board member following a vote in May to change the first day of school, which was originally scheduled on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Several parents present at that meeting said Bernardi, in opposing the change, made allegedly offensive remarks about Jews. Days later, she issued statements of apology for the comments.

The issue has indeed overshadowed just about all other news and events in Evesham in the last three weeks.

In recent days, two New Jersey Assembly members and the chairman of the Burlington County Republican Party have called for Bernardi to step down. Township Council passed a formal resolution Tuesday advising the school board to censure or discipline her.

In a joint statement, the state lawmakers, Chris Brown, R-8th of Evesham, and Gary Schaer, D-36th of Passaic, stated that anti-semitic speech should not be tolerated, particularly from someone in a leadership position in organizations that advocate on behalf of children across the state and advise districts on issues and legislation.

 “The fact that (Bernardi) is in a leadership position for them is unacceptable,” Brown said in the statement.

Added Schaer: “As a member of the Jewish faith, I know firsthand the damage that can be caused by hurtful racist speech. There is no place for prejudice like this in our society.”

Evesham School Board President Sandy Student said Bernardi’s resignation was necessary for the school district to heal and move on.

“As a community, we don’t discriminate in this town, “ said Student. “That’s the big issue, and that’s why so many people were so offended. By definition, as soon as you identify someone by their background, you’re discriminating.”

What was frustrating, he added, was that if a child had singled out a peer based on religion in school, there would be regimented punishments mandated under the state’s anti-bullying law.

“It’s reprehensible that this was not applicable for a school board member’s actions,” Student said. “We’re the adults. We set the example for our children.”

Sue Wilder, an Evesham mother of three who heard Bernardi’s comments at the May 23rd meeting, said she too felt the resignation was necessary.

“It was the proper consequence for the anti-semitic remarks she made,” said Wilder. “I hope the board of education can repair the damage that she has caused. It is time for our town to heal and move forward by educating our children. I hope this sends a message there will be zero tolerance for discrimination and bullying.”

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