MULLICA TOWNSHIP — Bright yellow-and-black yard signs are popping up all over the township, simply stating, “We Support Kelly.”
They refer to Kelly Mascio, the 16-year veteran teacher who may lose her tenure and her job after she found two of her kindergarten students had engaged in sex play in a classroom bathroom, and promptly reported it to a principal.
Her supporters wear T-shirts with the same message, as they circulate a petition asking the Board of Education to decline renewal of Superintendent Brenda Harring-Marro’s contract when it comes up in June. They will present the petition at this Wednesday’s school board meeting, organizer Jaime Cirillo said.
Hope Cheatham was helping with the petition drive at the trash transfer station Sunday afternoon. She said the group wants the school board to listen to residents, who have come out in large numbers to the past two board meetings in Masco’s support.
“Maybe the petition will open their eyes to what we feel,” Cheatham said.
Harring-Marro has accused Mascio of poor supervision of her students and filed tenure charges against Mascio. The school board voted 8-1 to certify the charges, and now Mascio’s fate is in the hands of a state arbitrator assigned by the commissioner of education.
Mascio has been suspended since the incident Sept. 30 and lost her pay Feb. 26, when the board sent the charges to Trenton.
“My thought is the school board and everyone else is just being too hard on this young lady,” said Bruce Wise, after signing a petition and buying a yard sign Sunday afternoon.
“(The sign) is going up on my lawn today,” said Wise, who said he has lived in Mullica for 35 years.
Not everyone agreed. Some cars and trucks left “the dump” without slowing down or opening windows, and a few people expressed anger that Mascio lost sight of two young children long enough for them to enter a bathroom together, take of their clothes and touch each other, as they told investigators.
“Nobody’s caring about the kids in there,” said Michele Battles, who said she has grandchildren too young for school, but they will attend Mullica schools. “”Everyone just cares about the teacher and her job. Where’s the support for the kids?”
But most who would comment said the board was too harsh.
“Kids can get away from you,” said Susan Zaremba, who signed the petition and said she has been a Mullica resident for 25 years. “I don’t think it means she wasn’t in control of her class.”
Cirillo said her children are in class with Mascio’s kids, and her daughter Leah, now in seventh grade, had Mascio as her second-grade teacher.
“She was a wonderful teacher to my daughter,” Cirillo said. “Those kindergarten students have been robbed of a good teacher, because of a fabricated witch hunt.”
Mascio’s mom, Kay McIntyre, of Mays Landing, stopped by and said Mascio is doing well because of the community reaction.
“The support is really uplifting for her,” McIntyre said.
Mullica Township Education Association President Barbara Rheault, who is also a township committeewoman, said the group has printed 300 yard signs, and more than half are distributed. The group was collecting signatures also at Batsto Community Church, which Mascio attends, Rheault said.
The union took a vote on Harring-Marro on March 5. Rheault said then that 93 percent of members voted no confidence in her ability to lead the district.
Cirillo said more than 200 signatures were gotten in just a couple of days, and she hoped to get far more signatures on Sunday, the most popular day for going to the dump.
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