District announces plans for James Monroe Elementary School; Custodian charged in blaze

EDISON - Officials in Edison are making final preparations for teachers and students who will attend class at a local county college after their school was destroyed by fire Saturday night.

A custodian was charged for allegedly smoking and discarding a cigarette in a trash can, which is believed to have sparked the fire that gutted the James Monroe Elementary School.

Officials met with parents and teachers Monday to explain plans for roughly 450 kindergarten through fifth-grade students who attended the single-story school, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Students will be bused to Middlesex County College when classes resume on Wednesday. 

Stefanie Arozamena was already out buying supplies for her daughter's fourth-grade teacher on Monday. "I'm very thankful the entire school is staying together," she says. "That was my biggest fear. They are such a close-knit family. They look out for each other, the teachers and kids."
Parents say the most important thing is that the students remain together. "James Monroe is not that building," says Lynn Hofstra. "It's the community. It's the students. It's the parents and the wonderful faculty and staff that work there. So wherever we end up, that will be James Monroe."

Middlesex County Acting Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and Edison Police Chief Thomas J. Bryan say Jerome C. Higgins, 48, of East Brunswick, has been issued a summons for smoking in a public place.

The charge is considered a petty disorderly persons offense. Carey says the trash can in question was located in the custodian's office.

Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze for about three hours before it was brought under control. About a dozen firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, but no one else was injured.

There is no word on whether additional charges will be filed against the custodian.

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