HIGHLANDS – Newspaper reports and stories focusing on a Board of Education member and court actions concerning a time seven years ago when she was a teacher in a different school district, together with unassociated reports on a separate lawsuit filed by her husband, on her behalf alleging improper actions by a former local Board of Education member still continue to crop up on Facebook and other social media as Councilman Donald Melnyk’s wife Gina vies for her second term on the local board of education in Tuesday’s election.
Numerous newspaper articles and social media comments dating back to 2013 focus on Ms. Melnyk, who was a creative writing teacher at Teaneck High School and included in her curriculum an essay about “Six to Eight Black Men” in her class. In depicting the essay by David Sedaris, the teacher also took out her cell phone to show the class a picture she described as her own relatives, who are Dutch, in the Netherlands dressed in black face, an action that a black student in Melnyk’s class complained was offensive. Melnyk, who explained she was of Dutch ancestry, countered it was a culture difference and explained to the class the Dutch, in the essay spoke about Black Peter, a Spanish Moor some believed to the Santa Claus’ helper.
While the incident caused the school board to place a reprimand in her official file, Ms. Melnyk appealed that decision, through her collective bargaining agreement, and had the reprimand successfully removed.
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She then brought a federal action against the school district, alleging her own first and 14th Amendment rights were violated, charging the district’s anti-harassment policy was too broad.
In her action, Ms. Melnyk likened her use of the Black Peter story as similar to a health teacher offending vegan students if she mentioned meat as a source of protein in a balanced diet.
When that matter was heard in US District court, the judge dismissed Ms. Melnyk’s case, in an 18 page opinion that said “no reasonable person would find ... "a teacher’s advocating eating meat for protein could be perceived as motivated” by discrimination and that “it is difficult to imagine how a discussion on the topic of protein diets could possibly lead to a disruption of the school or interference with the rights of any students.” The Judge described Ms. Melnyk’s classroom action as fitting “squarely within the framework of non-protected curricular speech.” And the matter was ended.
However, in 2018, Ms. Melnyk’s husband, Councilman Donald Melnyk, filed an action before the School Ethics Commission against a former Highlands Board of Education member alleging that person violated the School Ethics Act That action was deemed to be deficient, and Melnyk was given, and took, the opportunity to amend it so it could be filed.
The former board member declined to file a response within the time limit after being served official notice, and was warned by the Commission such inactivity could result in Melnyk’s complaint being upheld and penalties could be lodged against her. The former school board member then filed a motion to dismiss the action rather than file an answer and by 2019, the matter became an agenda item for the Commission on whether the action could be dismissed.
That action to dismiss the complaint the Commission finally took in late March 2019.
The commission ruled that Melnyk had failed to plead sufficient, credible facts to support a finding that the school board member had violated any law.
The matter centered on Melnyk’s allegation that the school board member had blocked other candidates for the school board, via Facebook, including Ms. Melnyk from participating in an “online debate” about the then upcoming Board election.
The board member said it was due to the harassment her child had been subjected to at the school, to which Melnyk’s complaint rejoined “The connection between blocking the candidates to bullying in school suggests only one conclusion – that the Complainant’s child is the source of this bullying.”
Melnyk argued the board members’ statements were untrue, inaccurate, and defamatory, and injured the reputation of his child and his spouse. He added the alleged false statements followed a pattern of untruthful statements by the same person throughout the school year, and included accusations of personal threats by the Highlands Police Chief against her as well as multiple occasions of plagiarism.
In that election, Ms. Melnyk was elected and continues to serve, the person her husband had filed the complaint against was not. In the end the Commission found that even if the allegations were proven true, which they were not, there would still be no finding the board member violated the law and took official action in granting the request of the former school board member to dismiss the matter inasmuch as Melnyk failed to make a sufficient case for his claim.
VeniVidiScripto e-mailed Ms. Melnyk, the candidate in Tuesday’s election, explaining there was going to be a story concerning previous proceedings involving her and inviting any comments or requests for inclusion of any information in the story by Thursday, Oct. 28, as the story was scheduled to appear in VeniVidiScripto today. There was no response to the e-mail request.