Newly-elected school board members poised to begin in January include a North Jersey parent who won a seat by just 8 write-in votes — weeks after criticizing a transgender elementary teacher.

After launching a grassroots effort in November, Michael Coletta won a three-year spot on the Haledon Board of Education.

Coletta first created buzz during a September school board meeting, when he publicly announced that his child would not attend class with the transgender music teacher in the district’s sole pre-K through 8th grade school.

He called into the Sept. 12 meeting, telling the board of multiple reports from families that the teacher in question told students when it comes to gender, “they can pick what they want.”

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“I personally have a problem with this, I don’t agree with this, I don't believe it’s scientific,” Coletta said.

He continued that while “everyone has a right to make a living,” he wanted to know what the school’s policy would be about what the teacher shared with young elementary students.

Coletta also asked what would be different about it if a teacher “spouted” their religious beliefs during class — such as a Catholic teacher criticizing a Muslim student, or speaking against abortion during class.

“There’s supposed to be a separation of these things, from school — yes he has rights, but as a parent and a father I have rights and my child has rights. And it’s not fair that we’re going to pick one over the other - one person versus how many people are going to be offended,” Coletta said.

The Haledon Public School District serves nearly 1,000 students from preschool through grade 8 in Passaic County.

Weeks later, Coletta sent a message to local families on the Messenger app, as reported by NorthJersey.com, saying in part “I’m trying to give a voice to the concerned parents who are not happy with the over-sexualization of our school.”

Board members Liesl Fores-Iza (802 votes) and Rafael Martínez (855 votes) were both re-elected to full, three-year terms while the Haledon ballot had room for a third nominated candidate, which remained blank.

That seat went to Coletta, who received 52 write-in votes out of 189, eight more than Jimmy Iza, the closest runner-up.

Variations of both men’s names also received several more write-in votes total.

Omar Abbassi ran unopposed and won a two-year, unexpired term for the school board with 772 votes. Brian Zinn also ran unopposed and returns for a one-year, unexpired term received 709 votes

For Haledon, voter turnout was slightly above a third of the borough’s registered voters, as less than 117,000 ballots were cast.

More school board ‘newbies’?

Across the state this year, there were 2,151 candidates vying for 1,569 open school board seats in the November election, according to an analysis of county clerk data by the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Of those candidates, 905 were incumbents — a 5% drop as a percentage of the overall candidates from the 2021 school board elections – 42% this year versus 47% last year.

Last year, a total of 2,174 candidates vied for 1,594 board of education positions.

This year’s ratio of candidates per open seat was up a bit to 1.37 candidates per available position, according to the same NJSBA analysis. That was compared to the 2021 ratio of 1.36 candidates per seat.

NJ teachers and educators caught in sex crime busts

Over the past few years, state lawmakers have taken on the challenge of dealing with accused child predators among the ranks of teachers and educators.

In 2018, the so-called “pass the trash” law went into effect, requiring stricter New Jersey school background checks related to child abuse and sexual misconduct.

The follow individuals were arrested over the past several years. Some have been convicted and sentenced to prison, while others have accepted plea deals for probation.

Others cases are still pending, including some court delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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