Acclaimed Principal Could Face Dismissal

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A controversial New Jersey high-school principal, who has been praised by the Reagan Administration for his no-nonsense policies, faces possible dismissal and criminal charges after defying a court order and locking horns with his city's school board over the suspension of about 60 students.

The Paterson Board of Education last week voted to draw up charges of insubordination and unbefitting conduct against Joe Clark, the principal of Eastside High School. The board contends that he unfairly suspended the students without a hearing, and that he unlawfully locked school fire doors during the day.

Mr. Clark, who has received enthusiastic support from community leaders and parents, earned nation4al acclaim for his get-tough attitude and his insistence upon higher educational standards and stricter discipline. He reportedly roams the school halls with a bullhorn and a baseball bat to discourage drug dealers.

Mr. Clark said he suspended the students for having failing grades, calling them "hoodlums, thugs, and pathological deviants" who would stay in school forever to avoid getting a job. The board later readmitted the students.

The board will vote at its Jan. 14 meeting whether to file the charges. If it does, Mr. Clark, who has tenure, could be suspended for 120 days while the case goes before the state education commissioner.

Mr. Clark would be entitled to a hearing before an administrative8law judge, who would recommend to the commissioner whether to fine, suspend, or dismiss the principal, or drop the charges.

'Mutants and Murderers'

Mr. Clark, who had been ordered by the city last spring to keep his school's fire doors unlocked as required by the fire code, also was charged with criminal contempt for chaining them again, to keep out what he called the "mutants ... rapists and murderers."

Mr. Clark and the school board appeared in a Superior Court hearing last week, but as of late in the week the judge had not ruled on the case. Mr. Clark could be sentenced to six months in prison if found guilty of contempt, and the school board could be fined $1,000.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who visited Mr. Clark at the mostly black and Hispanic high school in 1986, phoned the principal last week urging him not to resign and to "hang in there."

"Joe Clark is a folk hero," Mr. Bennett told a reporter. "He is not Mother Teresa ... but look at the situation he was in and look what he's made of it."

Mr. Clark said he assured Mr. Bennett that he would not resign.

Mr. Clark suspended 300 students in 1982--his first year at Eastside--for the same reasons. One parent complained to the school board, but Mr. Clark's actions were supported by board members and the suspensions were upheld.

Two years later, Mr. Clark suspended 500 students temporarily to teach them a lesson about tardiness, according to a spokesman for Mr. Clark.--lj

Vol. 07, Issue 15 & 16

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