Sanchez rehired as Columbia principal

Columbia High School Principal Frank Sanchez at graduation.

Columbia High School Principal Frank Sanchez was reinstated to his position last week after a tumultuous six months that saw him arrested on assault and child endangerment charges only to have them dropped after a grand jury hearing.

The South Orange and Maplewood School District Board of Education voted 6 to 1 with two abstentions to reinstate Sanchez to the position at an annual salary of $182,622.

Liz Callahan, Regina Eckert, Will Meyer, Shayna Sackett-Gable, Qawi Telesford, and Arun Vadlamani voted in favor of reinstatement while Bill Gifford voted against. Nubia DuVall-Wilson and Kaitlin Wittleder abstained.

Sanchez reinstatement came after several parents spoke in favor of his rehiring and after a lengthy campaign in support of him that included lawn signs, a GoFundMe fundraising drive and lobbying of the board of education.

“We we are very grateful for the board’s actions and very happy for the South Orange Maplewood School Community that has stood in support of Frank for so long that they will have their educational administrator back to take care of their kids,” said Attorney John J. McMahon who represents Sanchez.

Sanchez was placed on leave in January of this year after he was charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with an incident with a student in a school hallway.

An Essex County grand jury reviewed and dismissed charges against Sanchez, who still faces a charge of simple assault, a disorderly persons offense, which will be addressed on a date to be scheduled. The simple assault charge was not subject to purview of the grand jury, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday, which said that there would be no further comment at this time.

“From the outset of this ordeal, we were convinced that what occurred on March 9, 2023, at Columbia High School should never have resulted in criminal charges being filed,” McMahon said in a statement. “The video surveillance that captured this incident revealed that Principal Sanchez acted appropriately, and with restraint, in preventing a possible confrontation between students.”

A Central Office Incident Alert Form about the incident was generated on March 10, 2023. The subsequent report said Sanchez is seen on video footage with his hand on the student’s arm, pulling her towards a staircase.

At the staircase, the student pulled away from Sanchez and for the next 30 seconds the two go back and forth, with Sanchez holding the student’s arm and the student attempting to pull away. Shortly thereafter, the video footage depicts the pair falling through a door, with Sanchez holding the student against a wall, the warrant says.

A section of the form where any injuries to the alleged victim are to be detailed is blank but in the narrative of the event, police say the student informed them that she had bruising as a result of the encounter.

Walter Fields issued a statement on behalf of the Black Parents Workshop that said had the child in question been a white special needs student “we would be witnessing an entirely different level of outrage.”

“The rush to reinstate a principal who was just cleared of one criminal charge by an Essex County Grand Jury, but still faces a pending charge and a state child protective services agency investigation, is the latest example of how the South Orange-Maplewood School District devalues the lives of Black children,” the statement said.

A statement issued under the logos of Black Lives Matter Elizabeth, Black Lives Matter Paterson, and Black Lives Matter New Jersey, said the organization stands in solidarity with the student and called for Sanchez employment to be terminated.

McMahon said he hopes to have the remaining charge taken care of by the end of the summer.

“We made a demand for full discovery and the grand jury transcript,” he said. “We are looking forward to putting this all behind Frank, and the community, before the school year starts.”