New Building Railings the Legacy of a Woman's Death

Jean Donato died in a fall down the BOE stairs in March. Now the building is safer, but her family still grieves.

You may or may not notice the new railings on the multiple exterior staircases of the building. 

They're probably the most significant change on the face of the building since it began its life as a school in 1876 before eventually being repurposed into an administration building for the district.

The installation of the railings came about after Jean Donato, chief clerk in the district's purchasing department, and succumbed to her injuries.

Donato had been participating in a township-run event,  that encouraged township and BOE employees to dance around for three minutes at a predetermined time to encourage physical fitness. 

Donato, recalled her son, Robert Donato, had followed her colleagues outside for the event. That is when "she tripped or fell, and somehow became airborne" down the stairs of the BOE building, Robert said. 

She was catapulted down the stairs, breaking both her wrists, and smashing her head on the sidewalk. She suffered a massive brain injury and later succumbed to a stroke while in the hospital.

In the wake of Donato's death, the NJ Office of Public Employee Occupational Safety and Health ordered the district to correct "serious violations", including the installation of railings on the building's exterior staircases.

It's a small comfort to Robert Donato. He said he "never heard from the township or BOE" after his mother's death.

He's frustrated that there's no recourse for his mother's estate to sue for what he sees as the Board's negligence, because it is a public entity and immune from such suits.

"It is my understanding that even if a member of the general public fell and was killed, the BOE could not be sued for wrongful death.  It is as if any government can ignore any safety precaution, any building code, etc., and do so with immunity," Donato said.

He and his family have nothing left but photographs and memories, and Jean Donato's death, her son believes, was entirely unnecessary.

"The bottom line is that employers owe a safe working place to their employees; the BOE did not do this.  It is a shame that it took my mother's death and the NJ Department of Labor for the BOE to finally create a safer working environment," Donato said. "The fact that a member of the public could have easily been injured or killed was ignored by the BOE."

BOE administrators could not be reached for comment.



Tom Maras August 04, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Truly, the untimely death of Jean Donato is a tragedy that may well have been prevented, had the School District not been guilty of, as the article indicates, “serious (safety) violations”. Then too, if the school and municipal employees had not been strongly encouraged (dare one say, compelled ?) to participate in yet another (as some might say) ill conceived, self-aggrandizing McCormac / Ficarra fitness promo, the tragic incident might not have occurred. At least not then. If Ms. Donato’s son, Robert, is stymied by laws protecting the School District/BOE, perhaps he should look into which contractor(s) did the work on the stairs and rails, both past and present. Like the current case with Mr. Muzzio, the owner of Citadel Environmental Consultants, he may just uncover some information that would be of value to his family in particular, and the community in general. Certainly, the prayers and best wishes of the community are with the Donoto family.
slyfox1961 August 06, 2012 at 01:56 PM
@Maras: what point is there to suing the railing contractor? The railings were installed AFTER she fell. And the stair contractor? The stairs were bult in the 1800's, which, I believe, make them actually older than you are.
Marie ward August 10, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Why not sue the person thats responsible for the buildings and grounds being up to code. I was once told I couldn't sue a business for not having the proper lighting in there parking lot, where my husband was assaulted and robbed. Found an attorney to take it and won. You can sue anyone for anything. Just need the attorney who has the b$&@s to go up against the Boe.
Bucky Winters August 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM
McCormac / Ficarra fitness promo! Oh my God! Talk about an oxymoron. If that was the case it would have been held at the local bar or McDonald's.


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