Bridgewater-Raritan High School band teacher and marching band leader, Larry Markiewicz has been suspended with pay pending further review and consideration by the superintendent.
The suspension took effect last week, and was approved by the board of education at Tuesday's meeting, pending continued investigation.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder declined to comment on the reason for the suspension, as did Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association president Steve Beatty.
But current students, graduates and parents turned out in droves for Tuesday's meeting to discuss a teacher they overwhelmingly call "the most influential teacher in their lives."
"The past few days he hasn't been there, it's been different and the band room has not been the same," said Megan Demichele, a senior at the high school. "He has given the band so many opportunities, and encourages us to grow to our greatest potential."
Several current students spoke about the influence Markiewicz has had on their lives, encouraging them to pursue their dreams and speak out for what they want to do. They said he has been the one to shape the band program and transform it into what it is today.
Many said it is the support, guidance and leadership they learn from Markiewicz that has made them passionate about music, but also forces them to work harder both in and out of the classroom.
"Band is the reason why I get up in the morning, and I learned so much from him in the past three years I have been here," said Haley Orlando, a junior at the high school. "I learned that if I want something, I have to fight for it with all my heart and soul."
"Mr. Markiewicz taught us that leaving a legacy behind is extremely important, and we have come before you to protect and defend the one man who has made the biggest difference in our lives," she added.
And for many graduates, they have carried those lessons on to college.
"Band was how I found my way in high school and found my way in the world," said Rebecca Orlando, a BRHS graduate who is now a music education major at Montclair University. "Mr. Markiewicz has made an enormous impact on my life, and showed me who I can be as a musician."
But, Orlando said, she is also concerned about the future students who will not learn from Markiewicz if the suspension holds.
"Imagine being a senior this year, and this was a historical year for the band, this band did something no band on the east coast has ever done, came in 18th out of 96 in Indianapolis," she said. "If he leaves, they will no longer be known for their success, but for the year they lost Mr. Markiewicz."
"And the biggest thing that kills me is for future students," she added. "He is the heart of the band program, and to take him away would be heartbreaking."
Graduate Cyrus Heidary, who is now a freshman at Rutgers University, said he had to take time out of college to show the students at the school now that the graduates still care about them, and they want to support the return of their favorite teacher.
"He is one of the most important people to happen to these kids," he said. "I can't even comprehend what would happen if anything happened to his position."
Frederick Ford, a former vocal director at the high school, said he worked with Markiewicz, and was dumbfounded when he heard about the suspension.
"Suspension is a very serious thing, and I hope the presumption of innocence would prevail," he said. "It is a damaging thing and I know it is tearing his family apart."
Ivy Lane resident Phyllis Demichele said she has two children in the band program, and has been able to see firsthand how Markiewicz's passion has influenced his students.
"I have watched my daughter grow in leadership, and most of this is due to him," she said. "He is the most passionate teacher I have ever seen."
"I feel the success of the band program is not determined by banners, it is measured by the children, growth and accomplishments," she added. "I know I can only speak for my experience, but I wanted you to be aware of the positive impact he has made on many students."
Crim Road resident Marie del Ciello said her two children were in the band program for all four years of their high school careers, and the lessons they learned from Markiewicz have translated into their current college and beyond endeavors.
"They learned to continue to strive for excellence, to make a commitment and stick with it, to learn discipline so they can get better, to have time management so they can do all their activities," she said. "And what they learned extends into their future."
AnnaRene Jeremiah, who is the chair of the Band Parents Association, said she credits Markiewicz with helping her son, Brian, grow as both a musician and leader.
"I appreciate this because it translates into self improvement and drive," she said. "I personally appreciate the challenges he has given to my son. What Mr. Markiewicz has done has worked for them all."
Nick Massa, a 2012 graduate and former drum major for the marching band, said he would like to implore the board of education and administration to recognize all the people, both current and former students, who journeyed out on a school night to the board of education meeting to show support for their teacher.
"They came here to advocate for Mr. Markiewicz, who has made an impact on us," he said. "I seriously implore you to consider that one man has caused this many students to come out and talk tonight."