Police stop bus, investigating whether school is open in Lakewood
The attorney and spokesman for the Lakewood Board of Education says that two school buses that were stopped in neighboring Toms River were transporting meals for children on the free- and reduced-lunch program — not taking students to schools.
Police in Toms River said they were investigating the possibility that a school is continuing to operate despite Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order shutting all public and private schools down for in-person instruction.
Police said they received several reports over the last few days regarding school buses and vehicles from Lakewood still transporting students in violation Murphy’s order, Toms River spokeswoman Jillian Messina said Tuesday.
Messina said the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office requested assistance around 2 p.m. on Monday during a motor vehicle stop involving one of the suspected buses. Lakewood police also responded and assisted with the investigation, and to follow up on reports of a suspected school still open in their town, according to Messina.
"The law enforcement community is not tolerating any violations of this executive order and will prosecute those responsible," Toms River police said in a statement.
Lakewood school board attorney Michael Inzelbuch, however, said that he spoke to the drivers of both buses and learned that the children on board were the children of the drivers. The children on one bus were young while the two siblings on the other bus were helping distribute meals.
The state has mandated that school districts continue to distribute the free and reduced-price meals during the school closure.
"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.
"No one — but no one — is gong to stop the Lakewood Board of Ed. from doing its legal obligations, which is to get food to children who are entitled to under free-and-reduced."
Public school buses have been used in Lakewood to deliver meals to students during their regular runs. Banners were put on many buses to explain why they were out.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said his office was investigating but offered no further details.
News 12 New Jersey first reported about the school bus.
Lakewood police have broken up at several weddings and parties that violated the governor's executive order prohibiting gatherings of any number, to encourage social distancing and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The latest two events were a large house party of 40-50 people that state officials have said was for a Bat Mitzvah on Sunday night, and a gathering of 35 inside a school.
“The law enforcement community is not tolerating any violations of this executive order and will prosecute those responsible. We are working very closely and in coordination with the Ocean County Prosecutor and other municipalities,” Messina said.
Murphy asked for increase in the penalties for such violations during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Monday.
"It’s one thing to be ignorant, although the patience for ignorance is about zero given the pounding away on this every which way morning noon and night," Murphy said.
He also repeated his call not to not blame certain communities and people for issues of compliance and said an overwhelming number of residents are following the order.
Lakewood is home to a large community of observant Jews, and backlash on social media has often been specific to the Jewish community there. Police have not reported any anti-Semitic incidents in the township.
On Sunday night, there were about 70 compliance issues across New Jersey, State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan said Monday.
"I don’t think it would be fair to say (Lakewood) more than any other town," he told a reporter who'd asked about frequent news reports about the township. "I think that sometimes attention gets drawn to Lakewood and Ocean County."
Murphy said there had been a call with community leadership in Lakewood "just to make sure."
"I think if you just took snapshots of the streets of Lakewood right now as we were discussing earlier you’d see a pretty empty reality. But there were a few gatherings that we were not happy about," Murphy said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to include statements by the Lakewood school district attorney.
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