NEPTUNE TOWNSHIP — Parents spoke out during a school board meeting Wednesday night against the vice principal who threw a beer at fellow diners in Galloway Township after a transphobic confrontation last weekend that has since gone viral.
During the Zoom board meeting that drew 140 attendees, Superintendent Tami Crader issued a strong statement against Neptune Middle School Vice Principal Michael Smurro, whose actions were caught on video.
She declined to offer any details of any disciplinary action, issuing a lengthy statement indicating Smurro is protected by privacy laws and tenure policies. But, she added, “This event is troubling as its perception potentially threatens the social-emotional well-being and climate of belonging that our Neptune School District community represents.”
“Many members of the public are demanding to know of the district’s next steps concerning this particular staff member. Although I assure the public that the matter is being addressed I must follow administrative code, tenure laws and contractual obligations and cannot share details of personnel matters,” Crader said.
She added, “Although we cannot comment on the details of confidential personnel matters, I can say the Board of Education and Administration are taking this matter seriously. In our district, we celebrate diversity and the uniqueness of all of our school community members. The actions shown in the video do not reflect our district’s commitment to inclusivity, cooperation, respect, and non-violence.”
Crader later said the district “has a ways to go” in improving its efforts toward LGBTQ and transgender sensitivity: “We know where we need to be and we are mapping that out.”
At least a half dozen residents criticized Smurro during the public comment portion of the meeting, calling his actions “disturbing” and “unacceptable.”
“As an LGBTQ couple, the recent news was embarrassing and disheartening,” said Nicole Callahan, who had recently moved to the township with her wife. “I was wondering what you do in general to support your LGBTQ families?”
Geena Buono, who identified as a transgender resident, offered similar concern.
“I have been made aware of what happened this week and we want to say how disturbing it was to see something like that occurring,” Buono said, noting high rates of LGBTQ and transgender homelessness that make school the only safe haven for many students. “School is their only safe environment and if they see their school principal is homophobic and transphobic, how can they feel safe to learn?”
At issue is the incident involving Smurro and his wife, Lisa, at Fred & Ethel’s Lantern Light Restaurant & Tavern in the Smithville section of Galloway Township that occurred Saturday. According to a video recording posted by another patron, Lisa Smurro, 53, took issue with someone she believed to be a transgender woman using a women’s bathroom.
Another diner began recording Lisa Smurro’s loud complaints, and the Smurros became more confrontational as they left the restaurant, with Michael Smurro finally throwing a beer.
“Here you go, pal, there you go. There you go,” Michael Smurro told a patron doused with the suds, according to a video clip. “Now you can come out, now you can come out,” he continued, beckoning with both arms. “That’s what I thought, that’s what I thought.”
Earlier, his wife’s loud remarks were also caught on video: “She’s a man, in my bathroom,” Lisa Smurro said in one video clip posted on Facebook. “A man or a woman, that’s what you are.” She added: “It’s not right.”
The incident has drawn national media attention and criticism from LGBTQ groups, as well as public officials.
Smurro declined to comment this week when reached at his home, but has issued an apology to the Associated Press:
“I allowed my emotions to get in the way of my normally sound judgment and reacted in a way that was inappropriate,” he told the AP. “I do not condone violence or discrimination of any kind and should have simply walked away. I apologize to the person I threw my beer at and wish I hadn’t done so. I apologize to anyone I offended.”
But during Wednesday’s school board meeting, the comments were harsh and critical of the Smurros.
“Not only were they disrespectful to the community, but that particular person’s response instead of de-escalating the situation, made it worse,” Dawn Crozier said about Michael Smurro. “I hope he won’t be there next year when my daughter gets there or at least provide more training. How can our children look up to someone like that who is disrespectful to the community and to our children in the school who look up to him.”
Erica Contreras, a middle school parent, agreed: “This is very inappropriate, this is terrible and my daughter goes to that school and I am disgusted. This is completely unacceptable.”
Kym Hoffman, a parent of a transgender child, said her experience in the district has been “amazing and supportive.” But she said this incident remains “disturbing and we expect action for our daughter and all of the LGBTQ students and families.”
Roslyn Hurt-Steverson, another middle school parent and former school board member said only that the situation “is not a surprise for parents who have been in this district for a long time, that is not a surprise, I will leave it at that.”