SCHOOL OF HATE: Only Black Girl Expelled Day Before Birthday

Nova Z
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PHOTO: Black Star News Youth-Journalist Nova Z On Her 10th Birthday 2020

The Black Star News has learned that a white priest and a white principal from St. Mary's Catholic Elementary School in Lee, Massachusetts officially expelled our very own "Youth-Journalist" Nova Z - who has maintained a five year A-B average and has had no disciplinary issues the entire time she has attended SMS- the day before her birthday this summer.

Father Brian McGrath and SMS Principal Jennifer Masten, who both took over the school in 2016, have acknowledged in emails obtained by The Black Star News that Nova Z has done "absolutely nothing" wrong herself in over five years of schooling.

"The reasoning behind this decision," Masten wrote on 7/28/20 to Nova's father, New York City true-crime author and investigative journalist Toby Rogers,"is exclusively due to your treatment of our staff."

But The Black Star News has also obtained a treasure trove of documents and emails* from SMS and a 3/20/17 ruling from a Berkshire County Family Probate Court (BFPC) Investigative Report spearheaded by investigators from the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) that paints a much different portrait as to who actually mistreated whom over the last four years at this small country Catholic elementary school nestled in the heart of Norman Rockwell country- the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts.

3/20/17: THE BERKSHIRE FAMILY PROBATE COURT- DCF CHILDRENS' INVESTIGATIVE UNIT REPORT

In 2017, all Nova Z - a sweet, innocent six-year-old African-American girl- wanted to do was go to her kindergarten class and be with and help her friends. Her school had approximately 90 students attending K-8 and a small pre-K class. She was slightly older than her classmates and watched over them like younger siblings- helping them with school work or resolving disputes.

"Nova is such a sweet friend," Micaela Biagini, Nova's 2nd Grade teacher wrote on her first term report card in 2018, "She is always willing to help others and help me around the classroom."

The school, built in 1956 has a giant vintage basketball gym/cafeteria/theatre hybrid space and large classrooms and hallways that now educates a much smaller student body. During its hey -1956 to 2006- SMS educated hundreds of school children at a time. Now it operates on a shoestring budget, with a never ending revolving door of teachers who either are young and use it as a springboard to teach elsewhere or older teachers who are in transition to the next higher paying gig. The one adult constant at SMS was Ms. Valarie, the school music teacher who has been a staple at the school for decades (Nova's favorite teacher and subject).

When Nova Z was two years old, her mother, who was from New Orleans and survived hurricane Katrina in 2005, died at age 28 after falling asleep at the wheel in an early morning car accident in Upstate, New York after a night shift as an Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) nearby.

The only memories Nova has of her mother was her long, thick flowing dreadlocks- tickling her body getting dressed after a bath, playing out in the backyard or being tucked into bed. She does not remember her mother's voice or face, even though she has many photos of her. For Nova, the smell, texture and her mother's love are symbolized in dreadlocks and in her mind, is all that's left of her mother.

"I remember when she was blowing into my belly to tickle me and I was completely covered in dreadlocks from head to toe," Nova told Black Star News.

After her mother died, Nova spent a few years at a California Bungalow in Uptown Butte, Montana. The rowdy and forever wild hometown of Evel Knievel way out west grew on Nova right away. The women she encountered in Butte - the rodeo riders, the lady motorcycle gangs and bartenders, the amateur roller derby and MMA exposition athletes, were strong and empowering figures for the young toddler. At the end of a women's roller derby in town, Nova would beg her dad to take her to Dairy Queen to dine with some of the skaters who would tend to congregate there after a derby to down burgers, fries and shakes together with their black eyes, missing teeth and sweaty, disheveled hair.

While Rogers completed his book, The Ganja Godfather (Trine Day Press, 2015), Nova went to Butte Head Start for two years before graduating in the summer of 2015.

In the entire span of Nova's time in Butte Head Start did one issue arise between Rogers and the school.

When The Ganja Godfather was released in the spring of 2015, Nova was still in school. Rogers' publicist arranged dozens of radio shows, podcasts and a spot on Russian Today (TV) across North America until Nova's graduation. "I told my publicist 'I'm like De Niro in Taxi Driver, 'any day, any time', " Rogers said. A book tour was arranged to start in Butte after Nova's graduation that took them back east where it ended in New York City.

Even before he left Butte, Rogers called his priest, Fr. CJ, from St. Ann's Church in Lenox, Ma. He asked Fr. CJ if he could recommend a Catholic School for Nova in the Northeast. He recommended SMS in the Berkshires. Rogers had lived in the Berkshires for a year before Butte and thought it would be a great place to raise Nova permanently. He called SMS principal Jane Fury and told her to hold Nova a spot for the fall.

At the end of Nova's first year at SMS, Fury retired. In 2016, Fr. Brian and Masten took over the school and almost right away the problems began.

On 2/28/17 at 9:17 AM, Jennifer Masten returned a call she received regarding Nova's safety and well being with the state's Department of Children and Families Investigative Unit.

The investigation was initially sparked by a "grandparents rights" lawsuit later to be dismissed in early 2019. Yet, Masten's comments and shocking allegations about the school's only Black child and her father- which was recorded and transcribed into a final internal BFPC report- is plausible if not convincing evidence that the white principal had attempted to use several false and manufactured allegations along with a few additional painfully obvious Black tropes and her status and position of power as principal to upend the life of the school's only Black child occupying class space normally reserved for whites.

In the report, Masten- who is half of the Masten Berkshire power couple being the wife of Greylock Federal Credit Union executive John S. Masten - said the child "definitely has hygiene issues" and "she has an odor to her" and that the child "comes to school in shirts that are dirty." Masten also reported the child's "dental hygiene is also an issue. She has caps on her teeth and is missing teeth that are not growing in."

Masten described Rogers as "aggressive" and had written "a book detailing his use of marijuana. It is in the child's file." She also informed DCF that "recently" in "in a meeting" with Rogers "there was a strong odor of Marijuana."

The DCF Investigative Unit raced to the Rogers family residence on Old Stockbridge Road in the upscale town of Lenox, Massachusetts the following day, 3/1/17. There, DCF detective Lara A. Nylic, along with another DCF social worker, met with Nova and discovered quite the opposite of what Masten described. Detective Nylic wrote in her final report she found the child - who was just coming back home from a swim at the Lenox Cranwell Golf Resort & Spa after school was "dressed and groomed well" and that her "teeth had grown in." Even more shocking to Detective Nylic, the so-called drug memoir Masten said Rogers wrote and "is in the child's file," was not only absent from the child's file- it didn't exist at all. Roger's The Ganja Godfather, is a true-crime book about the mafia and the role they have played in the underground cannabis-economy in New York City.

On 3/20/17 the final DCF report stated:

Allegations of neglect of 6 y/o (Nova Z) by her father Toby Rogers are unsupported. Concerns of Toby and domestic violence, substance abuse, anger issues, torturing Nova by getting her teeth pulled were unfounded. There was no evidence obtained during the investigation that supports (Masten's) allegations.

"What happened to my daughter in 2017 was tantamount to a hate crime," Rogers told The Black Star News . "When a white school principal with that kind of authority and power falsifies allegations that could have removed the only Black child in a school from her home is unconscionable. Even worse was the fact the diocese did nothing about it. Masten should have been fired immediately and would have if she was a principal at a public school."

FALL 2017: "I DID NOT SAY THAT"- MASTEN DENIES REPORTING "UNFOUNDED" ALLEGATIONS TO DCF IN REPORT

On October 31, 2017, Rogers' lawyer, Massachusetts State Attorney Gregory Whittaker received the final DCF Report from 3/20/17. It had some slight redactions, nevertheless the seasoned family probate attorney was dismayed at Masten's disproven allegations. Both he and Rogers arranged to meet Masten and Fr. Brian at SMS to discuss the report.

When Rogers began to read back the allegations that Masten made to DCF to her at the meeting, she first blurted out loud, "I need to speak with an attorney," before she would confirm or deny the things she said to DCF. As Rogers continued to cite the wild and unfounded allegations Masten made against Nova and Rogers she began to repeat out loud, "I did not say that," over and over.

As Mr. Whittaker kept copious notes of everything both Masten and Fr. Brian said, it was becoming painfully obvious to the sharp, undefeated Massachusetts legal eagle what Masten was doing. She was now accusing DCF of fabricating most of what they claimed she said, acknowledging one charge- Nova wearing "adult sized shirts" to school- DCF - she said- got that right.

As the conversation became more and more surreal, Whittaker offered an easy path for Masten to resolve the matter out of court. Going forward, Masten would not act out in any way that would harm or have a negative impact on Nova's life or well being while attending SMS and she would write a letter to both DCF and BFPC expressing that she felt they had falsely attributed the "unfounded" allegations to her.

Masten agreed and Fr. Brian approved of the arrangement and the issue was squashed.

Masten did write a letter that was sent to Whittaker, but it was not the letter that was agreed upon. She demurred accusing DCF of falsifying her unfounded allegations in writing. "The letter was not..let's just say I was disappointed," Whittaker told The Black Star News.

9/13/18: FR. BRIAN THREATENS NOVA Z WITH EXPULSION

Shortly after the next school year began, on September 13, 2018, Rogers met with Fr. Brian again. Rogers explained that Masten had reneged on the deal they all agreed upon. He was beginning to wonder if Masten may be a pathological liar and that if she squelched on her promise to write a letter to DCF refuting what they claimed she said, she just might lash out at Nova again in some way.

"This is really serious, Father," Rogers stressed, "I think we both know that DCF did not fabricate the allegations Jen made against Nova and I. It's a Court Report. It is indisputable. Jen said the things she said. There is no denying that. It's not true DCF made up her allegations, just as the allegations she made up about Nova and I were not true. The court determined that Jen reported false allegations to DCF and now she wants to say they are the liars and you are ok with that?"

Rogers also reminded Fr. Brian that Nova is the only Black student attending SMS. "Does Jen treat white children this way too or does she only subject Black children to this vile abuse?"

Fr. Brian pushed back.

"Toby, Toby, Toby, you have this attitude that just pushes people away from you. You just want to bust my balls every chance you can. Number one, I will side with her (Masten). I will always side with my staff. You are trying to make this a win lose and I am trying to make this a win win. Because, if this is a win lose...," Fr. Brian verbally trailed off and mimicked a scale going up and down with his hands and looked at Rogers. "I knew what he was telegraphing. If Fr. Brian 'always sides with staff,' and then framed my position as a binary choice where someone has to 'win' and someone has to 'lose' then obviously Nova would be expelled if I continued to press the matter," Rogers said.

2019-2020: MASTEN RECTONS THE 3/20/17 BFPC-DCF REPORT AGAIN

Over the years Masten retconned her narrative again when the matter came up in conversations between Rogers and Masten - including the last time on 7/30/20 in the hallway of SMS with Fr. Brian while Nova was in a summer class. DCF and BFPC were still at fault, but now the allegations Masten made were really accurate about Rogers and Nova and the DCF investigation and BFPC conclusions were wrong. Fr. Brian stood there, mask around his face, thoroughly backing both of Masten's explanations as being equally true despite the massive changes in space, time and logic such thinking would require.

2/25/20: "PRACTICE CATHOLICISM, NOT BUSTING MY BALLS"

On Tuesday 2/25/20 just after 7AM Mass at St. Mary's Church in Lee, MA- Rogers and Nova were helping the eldery volunteers take out the old monthly booklets from the pews and replace it with the new March edition. They would attend daily Mass together often during the week.

The daily Masses tended to have a much smaller, older and devout crowd that was much more tight-knit then the larger, regal and snobbish throngs of "cafeteria Catholic" parishioners that attended Saturday evening and Sunday morning masses.

In public, Fr. Brian was generally pleasant, unless something would go wrong he sometimes would lose his temper. Yet on this morning after mass, Fr. Brian's temperament, judgment and moral character- or lack thereof- was on full and naked display.

As a frail old man spoke to Fr. Brian, Nova and her father were standing right behind him. The old man and Fr. B were talking about extra copies of monthly booklets when the tall and sometimes intimidating priest interrupted him.

"Practice Catholicism, not busting my balls," Fr. Brian bellowed to the old man.

The old man froze. He could not believe his ears. Rogers looked at his daughter and looked at Fr. Brian and he too was rendered speechless by the warped and perverted words spewing from a priest in front of a 9 y/o girl after mass.

"Fr. B didn't seem to care in the least that a child was standing, or I should say he didn't seem to care in the least that a Black child was standing just feet away as he spewed his detestable Catholic koan." Rogers said.

When Rogers got home he wrote Fr, Brian an email.

Hi Father-

Would it be too much to ask that when you berate the elderly after mass in front of children to please kindly refrain from discussing your testicles? You may not be aware of it, but this is not the first time. My daughter heard everything you said today and asked me what you meant by it in the car ride up to school.

Recently, Mrs. Masten has requested that students be more mindful of their behavior at school. Certainly it goes without saying that adults at SMS need to set an example for children to follow. I shouldn't have to say this, but maybe I do- under the current church climate- there is really no appropriate context for a priest to discuss his testicles in front of any child, particularly a 9 y/o/ girl.

Thanks

Toby

Fr. Brian responded later that afternoon.

Toby. Thank you for calling me out. I was very hurt and overwhelmed. I know (name withdrawn) only has the best of intentions. There is no excuse for me saying out loud that he was “busting my balls”.

The Springfield diocese Child Safety Investigator Jeff Grant was alerted but other than making a few phone calls, nothing was ever done about it. Grant did not talk to Nova.

Fr. Brian never apologized to Nova or her father.

SUMMER 2020: THE EXPULSION- THE REVERSAL- AND THE BIRTHDAY EXPULSION OF NOVA Z

When SMS closed down for the pandemic in mid-March, the school slowly moved to "remote learning." The week before the shutdown was stressful between Rogers, Masten, and Fr. Brian.

Two discussions occurred between 3/11 and 3/13 between the three of them about COVID-19 and children and teacher safety. Rogers sent out an email to SMS staff and parents that was advocating they shut down SMS and quickly move to online schooling. Both Fr. Brian and Jen Masten were completely against the idea.

On 3/12/20 in part sparked by Rogers mass 3/11/20 email Masten wrote to every parent one mass email explaining where she and Fr. Brian stood on the pandemic.

We assure you that we have the utmost concern for your children and family’s safety amid the growing concern of the spread of the COVID-19. At this time we are not closing the school. - Jen Masten 3/12/20

The next day on 3/13/20. Rogers met with Fr. Brian and Masten again. The meeting took place after a full student and staff prayer session in the gym with everybody huddled together in front of a wall while, strangely, Fr. Brian stood way in the back away from the group. Rogers couldn't believe what he was seeing. Afterwards, Rogers pleaded with them to shut SMS down and accused them of not taking the pandemic seriously.

"How can you say we are not taking this seriously?" Fr. Brian said.

"Because If you are refusing to close the school down, you are not taking it seriously," Rogers said. He felt like they were all reenacting the film Jaws and in the name of safety and well being of every child and staff member told them both he doesn't mind "playing Chief Brody."

Fr. Brian and Masten told Rogers they disagreed and as the 3/12/20 email notice indicated, SMS will remain open for the remainder of the school year as planned until further notice.

That afternoon, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all schools in the bay state closed.

Nova's 3rd grade teacher, Linda Lam, wrote on her final report card:

Nova is a mature, creative, and good hearted student. It is a pleasure to have Nova in class. She arrives at school each day with a positive attitude.

In late July, just months after Fr. Brian had to admit he spoke inappropriately about his genitalia in front of a child after mass- he and Masten expelled Nova.

Two days later Rogers met with Fr. Brian and Masten at the school and reminded them of the many other times they have threatened to expel Nova in the past. He told them if he really is the issue for Nova's expulsion then he would completely withdraw from communicating with staff and let Nova's mother and grandfather -who have already been involved in meetings regarding Nova's education for years- take over that role.

They said they would "think about it" and "get back to" Rogers.

Weeks before SMS was to reopen from closing down due to the pandemic 8/31/20, Masten took a two week vacation to her summer home in Dennis, Cape Cod.

During her vacation, Masten sent Rogers this email:

We would like to remind you to complete Nova's enrollment for next year. To complete our online enrollment process, you will access our ParentsWeb through your existing login. If you do not have a login, please follow the Instructions for Creating a Family Online Login listed below. If you have any questions about the process, please contact me at 413-243-1079.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Masten

Principal

Masten had reversed the expulsion? Rogers forwarded the email to his father - Former Wall St. attorney and senior partner of Hawkins Delafield & Wood- Joseph P. Rogers.

"I assume this means that Nova can attend St, Mary's this coming school year," Rogers' father replied.

Rogers logged in to the school portal with the information Masten sent him and filled out 13 of the 15 folders. The two other folders were financial forms which he planned to work out directly with the school.

Two weeks later, and after no communications between Masten, Fr. Brian and Rogers, Masten emailed Rogers again.

Hi Toby,

I am just confirming with you that our position has not changed on this. I have not received anything from you indicating your proposal for communication for the upcoming year.

Rogers was perplexed since he was not sure what position had not changed when it changed twice within two weeks and since they never asked for a proposal- saying they would just "get back" to him, he never wrote one. Nevertheless, Rogers and his father quickly wrote a proposal and sent it off the next day.

Dear Jen,

Thank you for your email dated (withdrawn). In accordance with your request, attached is my proposal for the 2020-21 school year.

Sincerely,

Toby Rogers

Masten waited two days and responded back the day before Nova's birthday and explained once and for all they were going to expel her.

Toby,

You may have misunderstood my previous email, but again, we have not changed our position on this.

My best to Nova,

Jen Masten

A few days after Nova's birthday, Rogers explained to his daughter that Fr. Brian and Jen Masten will not allow her to come back to school.

Nova was stunned. She tried to put her thoughts into words as tears began to roll down her cheeks but struggled to speak and breathe. "What..what..what about all my friends? What about Ms. Valerie (Nova's music teacher)?"

Nova was beginning to process the severity of what Fr. Brian and Masten did to her. Her entire life, social, religious, everything revolved around SMS. Just as school is the center of American life, SMS was the center of Nova's life. Since the pandemic, she spent hours each week coming over photos and videos of her fellow classmates, longing to one day be reunited with them only to be told days before SMS reopened for the 20-21 school year that she was expelled.

Nova burst into tears, the trauma of what she was told was written all over her face. She did not know what to do or what to say. She just felt the loss. It was like a death. But a death of everyone and everything she had known for the last five years.

Rogers had seen his daughter cry before, but not like this. Because of her young age at the time, he was able to navigate Nova through her mother's death without any emotional shrapnel.

This time Rogers could not stop Nova from feeling this loss. He could feel the emotional scars forming with every wailing cry The hard-boiled NYC journalist had seen a lot in his 22 years as a true crime author and investigative journalist, but it was nothing to see his daughter cry so hard. He bent down on one knee and began to cry too as he embraced her in his arms.

On 8/28/20 Rogers wrote to Cardinal O'Malley on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of his being ordained a priest after the Springfield Diocese refused to allow an appeal of Nova's expulsion. He explained that Masten's unfounded allegations to DCF poisoned the well between them -including Fr. Brian's cover up, threats to expel Nova and discussing his genitalia in front of his daughter after mass- all reeks of bigotry and hate.

This was premeditated, racial targeting. It was a deliberate, dishonest smear against an innocent and harmless six year old Black girl. It was fraudulent and misleading. And to see a catholic priest, tie themselves to the mast on this, to see him bring such disrepute to the priesthood and the catholic educational system was astonishing to experience. Covering up child abuse by church leaders is not new. The type of abuse may be different, but the contours directly parallel the church's impulse to cover up past child sex abuse. This is the culture of an entire structure of Church power that still, in 2020, accepts and enables child abuse in many forms. Racial targeting and inappropriate talk of genitalia, the form of abuse my child was subjected to is apparently perfectly acceptable within the Springfield diocese."

Cardinal O'Malley's Chief of Staff Stephanie Whelan responded back via email. She told Rogers to appeal the decision within the Springfield Diocese first. The appeal was rejected without a hearing or a Bishop in charge of the Diocese.

Nova Z, at age six in 2017, is officially the youngest known "Karen" victim in America. As of today, she has been out of school now a total of nine days.

DEVELOPING......

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