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Tough Principal Faces Judge In Showdown Over Chained Doors With PM-Tough Principals

January 8, 1988 GMT

PATERSON, N.J. (AP) _ A no-nonsense high school principal in conflict with the school board over how he enforces his tough policies now is fighting an attempt to find him in contempt of court.

Eastside High School Principal Joe Clark, given to patrolling the hallways with a baseball bat and bullhorn, allegedly violated a court order to keep school doors unlocked during the school day to avoid a fire hazard.

In the past, he has chained shut about 40 exits, saying it was necessary to keep out drug dealers and other criminals.

He had been under a court order to unchain the doors during school hours. The city moved on Dec. 22 to have him cited for contempt of court for violating the order. Penalties for contempt of court range up to a $1,000 fine and six months in prison.

Clark’s attorney, J. Barry Cocoziello, argued at a hearing Thursday that Clark did not mean to show contempt for the order and should not be sanctioned.

Clark told reporters after the hearing before Superior Court Judge Ralph Martin that he locked the doors only after school hours, as allowed under the order.

A prosecutor said a city fire inspector reported the violation after seeing a television news report showing doors chained shut during the school day Dec. 14.

Deputy Attorney General Steven Brizek played the tape in court. One segment showed three doors chained and another showed a tumultuous interview between a television reporter and Clark, who responded to her pointing out the chains with, ″So what do you want to do, have me locked up?″

Brizek said the statement showed Clark knew about the chains and willfully violated the order.

The television reporter then asked Clark what time the chains went up, and he said 2:35 p.m.; the school day ends at 2:45 p.m.

″I meant 2:45 p.m., and 2:35 p.m. came out,″ he told reporters after the hearing, which was adjourned until Monday without a decision on the contempt citation.

″I was beleaguered for all day by reporters at the institution,″ Clark said. ″I felt she was ... searching for something to make a controversy,″ he said.

Cocoziello argued there was no way to gauge why Clark reacted the way he did.

Clark said he was angered by being taken to court.

″Instead of receiving applause and purple hearts for the resurgence of a school, you find yourself maligned by a few feeble-minded creeps,″ he said.

But an attorney for the city, Ralph De Luccia, said it was vital that fire codes be followed. Chaining the doors ″placed 3,000 human beings at risk,″ he said.

The hearing was the latest controversy involving Clark.

The city school board voted Monday to initiate disciplinary action over his dismissal of students who repeatedly failed or were absent. Clark could be suspended or even fired.

Clark has drawn praise from President Reagan and Education Secretary William J. Bennett for his educational successes.

On Tuesday, Bennett reaffirmed his support by calling Clark and urging him not to resign in light of the school board action.