Driver, officials resolute: No one’s bringing kids to Lakewood schools
LAKEWOOD — Police have continued to stop buses from Lakewood, looking for students or signs a school may still be operating, township officials say. But school officials — and the driver of one of the buses — are adamant there's nothing inappropriate to find.
Law enforcement authorities from Toms River, Lakewood and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office have been silent since Toms River police first acknowledged Monday they'd pulled over a bus, investigating the possibility a school was operating in defiance of Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order shutting down all in-person school instruction to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Toms River police said in a statement at the time law enforcement "is not tolerating any violations of this executive order and will prosecute those responsible." It was an unusual step for a local police department, as most refrain from releasing much information about ongoing investigations — to avoid compromising them, and to avoid impacting the reputations of people who they haven't yet confirmed did anything wrong.
Police have since referred any comment to the prosecutor's office, which hasn't given any, saying only it was still investigating the matter.
But Lakewood Board of Education attorney Michael Inzelbuch said police in his town have since pulled over two more buses. And he said he's spoken to drivers of both, who told him they were only delivering free and reduced-price meals to students — as buses have been doing in Lakewood since the school shutdown began.
"There are no schools open in Lakewood and if there is a school open in Lakewood, the prosecutor, the attorney general and anyone else should come down hard on them," Inzelbuch said in a video posted by The Lakewood Scoop on Tuesday.
Inzelbuch interviewed the driver from Monday's stop via telephone in a video posted by the Lakewood Scoop on Thursday. The driver said when he was stopped, three of his own seven children were on board. Three cars and 4 officers were at the stop, which lasted 30 minutes, the driver told Inzelbuch.
Izelbuch said the school board has requested that no children be on board the buses while making the deliveries, because “the perception becomes people’s reality.”
The driver, who was not identified, told Inzelbuch that police received a report that children were being dropped off at the homes in Toms River.
"I promise I am not dropping off anyone," the driver told Inzelbuch he said to police, adding that there is video to back up his story. The bus is also marked to indicate he is delivering food.
Backlash against Jewish community
Lakewood's Orthodox Jewish has seen frequent and often fierce backlash to reports of gatherings — also barred by executive orders during the novel coronavirus crisis — being broken up by police, some resulting in charges against those involved. Gov. Phil Murphy has cited incidents including weddings and funerals Lakewood at his daily press briefings on the coronavirus response, counting participants among the "knuckleheads" he's said are putting people in danger by defying his orders.
And yet both Murphy and State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan have suggested the focus on Lakewood it outsized — stressing police have broken up dozens of gatherings, across the state. Murphy's also stressed that Lakewood is a large community — of more than 100,000 people — and said the vast majority are complying.
Lakewood Committeeman Albert Akerman told New Jersey 101.5 this week rabbis in the township have told their congregations frequently people should not gather in defiance of Murphy's orders — likening risking infecting others with the coronavirus knowingly to "murder."
Akerman said when he's driven around town, he's seen nothing but empty streets. He said he is equally upset at he “haters” as he is with the residents who gather.
In the video posted to the Lakewood Scoop, the driver said when he approached houses to drop off food, children would come out to pick up their breakfast and lunch before going back inside their homes. He said he is still driving a bus.
Inzelbuch told New Jersey 101.5 that two buses, numbers 106 and 386, were stopped in Lakewood near the border with Toms River around between 6:08 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. Thursday.
"Both bus drivers were not Jewish and the meals were being served to Lakewood Middle School public school students," Inzelbuch said.
Each bus had an aide on board who is a Lakewood public school employee, according to Inzelbuch.
Lakewood police have not yet returned messages left Thursday afternoon.
In mid-March, Lakewood police acknowledged they temporarily allowed a private high school to house at least 100 students, even after gatherings of smaller sizes were broken up. Many of the students were from out of town and had no place else to go when the school was suddenly closed, police said at the time.
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