Parents and residents expressed anger and frustration during a New Jersey school board meeting last week, after sexual assault allegations against the school board president were made public.
Camden Advisory School Board President Wasim Muhammad, formally known as Donnie Walker, was accused of sexually abusing a former student for years when he was her teacher at Cooper B. Hatch Middle School, in the same district.
According to a lawsuit filed in September 2021, the abuse allegedly started in 1994 when the student was 14.
During the meeting, the first since allegations against Muhammad surfaced earlier this month, outraged parents and residents called for his resignation and pushed for school board reform.
Natalie Rivera, a local social worker, said he must resign due to the “appalling, heinous nature of allegations and injustice to our student.”
“I am sending a clear message to this board and the Camden School District Advisory Board president: Such behaviors, acts and tendencies will not be tolerated, and it has and will be condemned by this community,” Rivera said. “Leave our little ones alone. Give our students dignity. Give our students justice. Resign now.”
Rivera ended by quoting Matthew 18:6, a bible verse: “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Amira Kane, a former student and mother of two, claimed inappropriate contact between staff members and students isn’t a new problem in the district.
“You know I was a student from 2006 to 2014, and every year in school I heard or I witnessed a situation where a student was inappropriately contacted or dealt with by a staff member in school,” Kane said. “Now I hear these allegations not because somebody decided to wake up 30 years later and play ‘Doorbell Dixie’ at the police station; no, because the system that we have had over the past 30 years is old, tired and worn out and is no longer protecting our children.
“Enough is enough. Our daughter, our sons deserve more and we’re pleading that something has to be done.”
Vida Neil, a local resident, claimed she reported Muhammed in 2014 but was ignored, echoing concerns about the district’s failure to address ongoing issues.
“I notified you people. Forget the allegations; the whole community knows, but not one of you took time to figure it out, to make sure anybody was okay, to investigate or anything,” Neil said.
Kira Mauricio, a former student, called the situation “extremely distressing and concerning.”
“The safety and well-being of our children should always be top priority, and having someone with such dangerous intentions in a position of influence is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
In response to be backlash, Muhammad announced he would take a leave of absence “until the pending civil case is resolved and rectified.”
However, the New Jersey School Boards Association said it was “unaware of any specific provisions for a board member to take a leave of absence” under the law, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
According to the law, board members who no longer reside in a district or have three consecutive meeting absences can be removed.
Despite taking leave, Muhammad maintains his innocence in the face of all allegations, according to NJ.com.
“Mr. Muhammad professes his innocence and indicates that the pending lawsuit lacks evidence and is completely frivolous,” said Muhammad’s attorney, Troy A. Archie, said.
According to a legal deposition, Muhammad said the victim was his religious wife, one among others, NJ.com reported. However, he maintains they married after she turned 18 and did not have sexual encounters with her when she was a minor.
The woman reportedly denies the two were ever married.
The lawsuit also implicates district employees who allegedly knew about the abuse but failed to intervene.
Muhammad is the second member of the board who has been under scrutiny pending legal allegations this month.
Clayton Gonzalez, a former member of the Camden City Advisory School Board, resigned Jan. 5, after his arrest, according to Tap into Camden.
Gonzalez is facing multiple charges in connection with a domestic violence incident in November.