Shocking: Fights, riots, rats plague crumbling NJ school led by red-carpet superintendent
🔴 A teacher is blowing the whistle on horrific conditions at Irvington High School
🔴 While the school building falls apart, the student body has grown increasingly violent
🔴 The politically connected superintendent denies any major problem
UPDATE: In response to New Jersey 101.5's report, the superintendent provided a copy of a May 11 state Department of Health letter stating that violations that had been uncovered during a January inspection had been abated. The inspection had been sparked by a complaint. The district, however, did not immediately provide further documentation that detailed the violations or provide copies of all other inspections of the school in the past two years, which New Jersey 101.5 had requested after local officials characterized the report as misleading and unfounded.
UPDATE: More teachers step forward to describe conditions at the high school — and a middle school — in Irvington
Is this the state of public education in New Jersey?
A New Jersey 101.5 investigation into Irvington High School reveals unsanitary, dangerous and violent conditions more likely to get a business or residence condemned than to be described as an environment conducive to learning.
🔴 The hallways are littered with food waste and vermin — both dead and alive. Outside, garbage bags overflow from dumpsters.
🔴 Classrooms suffer from flooding and extensive water damage, with at least one ceiling appearing to be buckling.
🔴 In one restroom, a toilet is completely detached from the wall. In another restroom, a sign warns students not to drink tap water.
🔴 Mold covers walls and ceiling tiles along with exposed asbestos, oozing chemicals, peeling paint and crumbling masonry and plaster, photos show.
🔴 When students and staff are not dodging falling debris, they're ducking for cover from an increasing number of brawls and riots that break out in classrooms and hallways and spill into the neighborhood, which police officers stationed at the school struggle to contain, a teacher said.
🔴 The nearly 100-year-old building, meanwhile, lacks proper security and members of street gangs are able to walk into the building, a teacher said.
“Our day at Irvington High School is basically about trying to make sure nobody gets hurt,” a whistleblowing teacher told New Jersey 101.5, which has agreed to protect the educator's identity in order to hear the disturbing inside story without fear of reprisals by the administration.
"This is something that is constantly being covered up. The children are suffering.”
The school district's superintendent, who is married to the township's Democratic mayor and hobnobs with the political elite at her husband's black-tie affairs, downplayed the complaints and criticized the whistleblower for speaking to New Jersey 101.5.
“It is quite disturbing that I am now responding to an anonymous complaint when there are processes and procedures in place to deal with such matters, i.e. reporting to principal, reporting to union representatives, etc.," schools Superintendent April Vauss said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5.
"It is concerning to me, out of the 70-plus teachers, this is an anonymous complaint that should affect the entire school and not just one teacher."
While the conditions of the school — which serves a largely low-income and underserved community — raise questions about management and oversight of a budget that includes $138.4 million in state aid, the increasing violence might be another indication of behavior issues that have become widespread among students after the pandemic lockdowns in New Jersey.
Story continues below photos: Disturbing images from Irvington High
The whistleblowing teacher who spoke to New Jersey 101.5 said conditions over the past two years have deteriorated.
“Everything is dilapidated, it’s falling apart," the teacher said. "There are cockroaches everywhere, there are rodents, there’s mold coming from the walls. After a big rainstorm — floods, water coming from the ceiling.”
Social media videos show frequent violence in school
Warning: This video contains violence
Students know there are no consequences, teacher says
The teacher said many students are out of control.
“There’s no such thing as attending classes. Our hallways, whether between classes or during the middle of a class period, it’s very similar to Grand Central Station. They know there are no consequences for their actions,” the teacher said.
Fights are commonplace, and a police officer has been assigned to the school full-time. But even during the lunch break some students will continue to roam the hallways, causing mischief and occasionally chaos, the teacher said.
Municipal officials declined to speak to New Jersey 101.5 for this story but the news organization requested five years of police records to understand how often police are dispatched to the high school.
The records, for which the municipality charged $209 for New Jersey 101.5 to access, show that officers have responded to more school incidents since the return to in-class learning than before the pandemic.
For some incidents, half a dozen or more officers must respond for several hours.
At the end of last school year, three adult-age suspects were arrested outside the school on charges of disorderly conduct and rioting, arrest records show.
Chaos in the streets; gangsters walk into the school
For several months, Irvington High School tried a staggered dismissal schedule as part of a plan to stop students from fighting. But the teacher who spoke to New Jersey 101.5 said that plan was abandoned because warring factions of students would simply wait for each other outside the building. The brawls often end up on TikTok and Snapchat.
The teacher said another problem is many of the doors leading into the school do not have alarms and are not locked and can be easily opened.
“We’ve had intruders multiple times throughout this past school year that have come in, we had students open up a door for gang members, and they came in with hoods on, masks on and started a riot in the building.”
The teacher noted the public-address system does not work in many classrooms, and cell phone service is spotty throughout the building so if there is a problem or emergency, communication would be difficult.
Superintendent questions integrity of whistleblower
Superintendent April Vauss says the complaints are not warranted.
In response to questions posed by New Jersey 101.5, Vauss said the school has worked hand-in-hand with the Office of Public Employees’ Occupational Safety and Health to address concerns about the building.
“I am perplexed at these assertions about the conditions of the building. I would hope that your source is not utilizing your reporting as a way to attack the building administration," she said.
Union officials acknowledge problems but say work is being done
The whistleblower said many faculty members have complained on numerous occasions.
“We have brought up these concerns to our administrative team central office and our union, and we are told, the constant answer is, we are working on it."
A spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association acknowledged that major problems exist at Irvington High but disagreed that there has been no movement to address the complaints.
“NJEA and our local in Irvington are well aware of the issues and have been working tirelessly to address them," the spokesman said. "It is concerning to hear an allegation that 'nothing has happened' because that simply is not true. Nonetheless, much work remains to be done to ensure that students and staff in Irvington have the learning and working conditions that everyone has a right to expect.”
Michael Bycock, the union local president of the Irvington Education Association, said his organization has been working with the NJEA to address many problems throughout the year.
“There’s no question more work needs to be done — and the IEA stands ready to assist in any way possible — but the fact of the matter is without significantly more aid from the state for facilities and public safety in our most impoverished communities, meaningful progress will remain elusive,” he said.
Teachers do not feel safe
The whistleblower said that during the winter there was no heat in the school and temperatures in classrooms were in the 30s.
“Teachers do not feel safe," the teacher added. "It’s a very uneasy feeling and you don’t know what’s going to happen next."
The teacher said Vauss had reassured faculty that she would be available to discuss any concerns and had promised to check in with the staff throughout the year, but “we’re going on about six months and we haven’t seen her.”
The district chief's husband, Mayor Tony Vauss, declined to comment on the situation at the high school.
A request for comment was made to the New Jersey Department of Education and a spokesperson said the department “takes matters of safety and security very seriously. We encourage anyone who has questions or concerns about their school to contact their respective County Education Office for assistance.”