PATERSON — There's no such thing as a stupid question? A state Board of Education member might put the lie to that old classroom saw.

Gov. Phil Murphy has called on Jack Fornaro to step down from the volunteer position after he was criticized for asking city district officials whether their schools taught American history in light of the fact that they have so many Hispanic students.

"Do you teach American history as a required course? How far? Do you go back to the Independence, when the country was declared independent, or does it go after the Civil War? Where do you start?" Fornaro asked Paterson officials earlier this month.

The line of questioning drew condemnation from state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, and state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic.

“United States History is required by the state Department of Education throughout our K-12 education," the lawmakers said in a joint statement this week. "It is shocking that a State Board of Education member would suggest that American history, as a subject, is not being taught in one of our school districts."

"It’s offensive and unacceptable that anyone, much less a member of the board, would suggest that the students are somehow struggling in the course because they are immigrants or the children of immigrants," they continued. "We do not know what Board Member Jack Fornaro’s intent was in asking his questions but at the very least they came off as extremely troubling. We hope that the administration takes every available measure to rectify this situation and prevent further incidents like this.”

A majority of the students in the city's high schools are Hispanic. Almost half of the city's residents were born in another country.

Murphy responded on Wednesday by asking Fornaro to step down.

"I will not support comments during school board meetings that fly in the face of New Jersey’s values,"Murphy said. “In light of Mr. Fornaro's comments, I urge him to resign. Bias cannot be tolerated.”

Fornaro, a Warren County resident appointed to the board by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, didn't see what the big deal was.

“I’m just totally shocked. We’re on the board to ask questions. That’s what we do. We ask questions," quoted him as saying after the lawmakers' reaction.

The 13 members on the state school board are appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. They serve six-year terms without compensation. The body is responsible for adopting the rules that implement state education law.

Fornaro has decades of experience in the public and private sectors, once serving as a municipal business administrator in Mahwah and working as a law enforcement investigator, private eye and financial advisor.

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