A group of Newburgh Free Academy teachers are in hot water after being accused of posting racially offensive material on a Facebook page over the last several days. Newburgh Enlarged City School District Acting Superintendent Ed Forgit said he is taking action.
The Newburgh News was able to obtain a screenshot of the original post. NFA Art Teacher Nicole Mischo posted a picture of a hair extension found on the floor of a classroom. In the post, Mischo wrote, “Does anyone know what kind of snake this is? Found it in my classroom.”
Later in the thread, Mischo went on to ask Leanne Paganelli, a cosmetology teacher at NFA, “Did this bio hazard escape from your room?” Paganelli replied, “It better not lol.”
Joseph Raiti, a retired principal from Heritage Junior High School (now a middle school), wrote, “Rubber!” followed by two laughing emojis.
Joanne Mazzarelli Silva, a teaching assistant at NFA, responded to Mischo’s original post, “haha.”
Jen Simone Puleo, who works in the Highland Central School District, answered, “The dreaded kind.”
Joshua Lipira, also an NFA art teacher, called it a “Northern weaver.”
Some students who are familiar with her brushed it off as a simple joke and said Mischo is not racist. However, her comments and the ensuing replies caused anger across social media platforms.
For Forgit, it was no laughing matter. “The District has been made aware that a group of employees have engaged in an exchange of commentary on Facebook that is reasonably perceived as offensive and racially insensitive, particularly towards the Black Community,” he explained. “Please understand, the District does not condone this type of behavior and will take the necessary actions to demonstrate the respect we have for our diverse community.”
According to public records, Mischo collected $122,853 and Lipira made $98,207, both for teaching art classes at NFA last year.
An anonymous source reported that the hair was on the ground following a physical altercation, not involving any of the teachers. It is alleged that someone pulled a girl’s hair extension out during the fight, which then fell on the floor.
Less than two weeks ago, Mischo was publicly recognized by the NECSD when one of her students, who is an African-American, painted a mural in a hallway in NFA. It started out as a small project but turned into an entire wall being covered. At the time, Mischo said, “When you have a kid like this, you have to find a way to run with it. Sometimes it’s just about not holding them back.”
At the time, the student commended Mischo in a piece that he wrote. “I describe the various hardships that different types of black people have to face on a day to day basis through my art and with the help of my art teacher, Mrs. Mischo,” the 12th grader stated.
This Facebook posting is the second recent situation that has focused on the black community, Forgit said. The District continues to work with law enforcement authorities to identify the individual who made a threat against the Black Community at NFA, Heritage Middle School, and South Middle School on social media.
“I ask that we all shoulder up and continue to speak out against inappropriate actions such as this,” Forgit concluded.
On July 1, Dr. Jackielyn Manning Campbell will take over as the new Superintendent of Schools. “We will aim to achieve global leadership in education, aligned with an accessible mission, by recognizing diversity and inclusivity as a source of strength to our collective success,” she explained when her appointment was announced.