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  • Writer's pictureRev Joseph Taylor

Manchester Twp N.J. Superintendent John Berenato Named in Harassment & Race Discrimination Lawsuit

Oct 28, 2023

Manchester Principal Evelyn Swift Of Whiting Elementary School 2023

Meet Principal Evelyn Swift. (above) Ms. Swift is a consummate professional. Her intellect is beyond measure, only surpassed by her spirituality and her passion for people. She is a mother, a daughter, a professed Christian, and, from all accounts, a warm, compassionate friend. She is also an outstanding educator. Ms. Swift has been with the Manchester School District in Ocean County, New Jersey, for 24 years. She started her stellar career in 1999 as a teacher at the middle school. Due to her professionalism and her acute attention to her students, she was promoted to principal. Ms. Swift has served as the principal of the Whiting Elementary School since July 2012; as of the writing of this article, she has served for 11 years as principal without administrative reprimands.

Enter Mr. John Berenato. Mr. Berenato was hired as the district's superintendent in February 2022, a little over one year ago. Upon John's arrival, he immediately homed in on Ms. Swift. It should be noted that Mr. Berenato is a white male, and Ms. Swift is an African-American female. It must also be said that she is the only African-American female principal in the entire district. After being in the district for a very short while, Mr. Berenato asked Ms. Swift to transfer to Manchester Elementary. She declined and explained that she had developed a rapport and excellent relationship with the parents and community over eleven years. Berenato explained that the population has changed over at the Manchester School, and she would be a better fit over there. To note: there was an increased population of the Latino community, and Mr. Berenato was inferring that Ms. Swift, as a woman of color, would do well over there. Despite Ms. Swift's objections, Mr. Berenato persisted in requesting that she transfer. Her continued refusal led to Mr. Berenato's first action against her.

Negative Evaluations

After 11 years of positive reviews, Ms. Swift was given a negative evaluation in her mid-year performance evaluation. The negative review included her attendance because Ms. Swift took vacation time and missed a school event. Despite having coverage for the event, moreover Mr. Berenato's approval of the vacation time, plus having enough of the allotted vacation time on the books, Ms. Swift was written up on her evaluation for the incident. Swift contested the review, and during one of the meetings to discuss the negative assessment, Mr. Berenato asked her about when she plans to retire. He went on to offer alternate streams of income for her. The negative review and the inquiry about her retirement made Berenato's insidious intentions clear. Ms. Lori Burns is the district's director of early childhood education and was directly involved in Principal Swift's negative evaluation. According to the lawsuit, she was complicit and even a conspirator in the harassment of Ms. Swift. Ms. Burns was entrusted to write Ms. Swift's evaluation. Ms. Burns was only in the district for a short amount of time; therefore, she knew very little about Ms. Swift other than that Berenato intended to remove Swift, and she did not have any of the documentation needed to conduct an evaluation. An unfavorable review was predetermined; therefore, the necessary documentation was optional.

Ms. Burns was supposed to procure necessary information from Principal Swift before conducting an evaluation. It is impossible to complete an evaluation without the documentation. Nevertheless, Ms. Burns conducted a negative assessment. It was evident that the facts did not matter. It was also quite apparent that compiling a case for the removal of Principal Swift was the only thing that did matter. It was clear to Ms. Swift that an honest evaluation would not be conducted. The assessment was to compile evidence to remove Principal Swift from her post. The plot against Ms. Swift thickens. Ms. Burns, Ms. Swift, and Mr. Berenato were in a meeting when Ms. Burns stated that Ms. Swift needed to conduct an audit of preschool books. She went on to state that books must display more diversity. Mr. Berenato said the "books need people who look more like you." As a side note, because of Mr. Berenato's interjecting regarding the composition of the books speaks to the conspiracy in which Ms. Burns and Mr. Berenato engaged. They, Lori and John, had to discuss the racial design of the books and Ms. Swift's race beforehand. Mr. Berenato then presented Ms. Swift with a list of books with pictures of animals and African Americans. It should also be noted that it was reported that Ms. Swift's colleagues were all given positive evaluations. Bridget Antonucci is the director of special services for the district. Ms. Antonucci is named in the lawsuit for her involvement in trying to build a case against Principal Swift. Once the campaign to belittle Ms. Swift and disrespectful attempt to discredit her character and professionalism was covertly conspired, Antonucci went about concocting false scenarios in which Ms. Swift was negligent in her duties, sloppy with her paperwork, and not on par with her fellow administrators in the district. Demands were made of Principal Swift that were not made of other principals. The disparagement of treatment was glaring.

Continued Harassment

Ms. Cheryl Mackenzie is Mr. Berenato's assistant. Mackenzie states that Mr. Berenato has openly discussed removing Ms. Swift from her role as principal. He said that she would be better suited as a Vice Principal. It should be noted and emphasized Principal Swift has an exemplary record in the 11 years she served as principal. She's never had a negative evaluation and has an excellent rapport with the parents and community. She is a highly respected professional and is held in high esteem by her colleagues and the community at large. Mr. Berenato's intentions were evident at the start of his tenure at the Manchester School District. He ignored Swift's stellar performance and homed in on Swift's race, age, and gender. Berenato then continued to assail Ms. Swift by stating that he wanted to take her office away and replace it with a "reset room" for students. He knew that as a principal without an office, Ms. Swift would be humiliated and rendered impotent in the eyes of her staff.

No depth too low

On September 11, 2021, Principal Swift endured an extremely traumatic event. Her youngest of two beautiful children, Troy Swift II, passed away after a long battle in a coma following a motor vehicle accident. Ms. Mackenzie states that Berenato insinuated that Ms. Swift's performance may have been affected by her loss. Berenato further noted that her absences may be due to losing her son. It should be noted that her son Troy passed away a full year before the district employed Berenato. It was evident that Berenato would stoop to any level to accomplish his goal of removing Ms. Swift. He maliciously and callously mentioned the death of a mother's son to achieve his goal. Berenato underestimated Principal Swift's 24-year relationship with the community and parents of Manchester. Berenato further underestimated the rapport she developed with her colleagues and parents over 11 years as principal. He underestimated her intellect, tenacity, and resilience. Berenato ignored Swift's commitment to excellence and her dedication to her students. Berenato racism, sexism, and ageism blinded him to who she is: an outstanding educator. Understandably, there was a public and resounding outcry when the lawsuit was made public. The decent people of Manchester Township stood up for Ms. Swift. Hundreds of emails came to the Board of Education demanding his removal. The good people of Manchester judge a person by the content of their character and not by their gender or race. Mr. Berenato found out that Manchester will not tolerate the stain of racism. They root it out as quickly as it is identified. Berenato's youth and inexperience betrayed him. The relaunched Echo, New Jersey's oldest Black-owned newspaper, applauds the good people of Manchester.

As of the writing of this article, Manchester's Board of Education still needs to resolve this complaint. For further information, the lawsuit is public and filed in Ocean County Municipal Court, Toms River, NJ.

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1 Comment

Nov 04, 2023

We in Manchester Twp New Jersey STAND WITH MS SWIFT

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