MILLBURN, NJ - Millburn Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield, at Monday's Board of Education meeting, said recent comments about the district's efforts to deal with non-resident students allegedly attending township schools were “insulting” to many of the education center personnel who are attempting to get a handle on the situation.
Crisfield noted that the district has been looking into the matter both through actions taken by its former registrar of students and its current registrar, and it previously employed retired Millburn police officers to verify that students attending township schools legitimately lived in the township and it is continuing that program.
The superintendent added that two years ago the township schools re-registered an entire grade and this did not produce any evidence of non-residents attending the schools. He noted that this result, however, neither proves nor disproves that there are non-residents attending Millburn public schools.
He also said the district, in the future, possibly could use a database to verify whether addresses of students provided to the district, were, in fact legitimate.
“We will not, however, offer incentives like some districts do or pit neighbor against neighbor,” Crisfield added.
He noted when and if a non-resident student is believed to be attending township schools a hearing will be held and the confidentiality of all parties would be protected, “because we have to realize we are dealing with human beings.”
Board member Lise Chapman, at Monday's meeting, however, said she had heard township parents say that their children go to the homes of classmates and those homes are located outside the township.
She also said that, apparently, many parents are unaware of the fact that Millburn requires all students attending township schools to live within township boundaries.
The superintendent replied that all parents should be aware of the residency requirement because they are required to provide proof of residency when their children first sign up for school.
He added that the district does follow up when a letter is sent to a parent from the district and the letter is returned as undeliverable and, also, if there is a suspicion that a student may not be a township resident, it is possible someone from the district may verify where they are dropped off after leaving school.
Chapman, however, said a friend in Greenwich, Conn., told her that their school district requires re-registration and verification from kindergarten through 12th grade. She said Millburn may eventually have to do this and said the township district should “meet the issue head on and do it now.”
The superintendent said Millburn might eventually use that method but had no plans to do it at this time.
“Just because some say there is an issue does not mean there is an issue,” he added.
The topic of non-resident attendance of township schools has been brought up at the past several board meetings by former board member Josh Scharf.
At Monday's meeting, Scharf said although he was glad to see the superintendent of schools was doing more about the non-resident student allegations, in fact, the residents of Millburn, who, he said, are paying the highest property taxes in New Jersey, should be the ones who are insulted if not enough is being done to deal with the allegations.
On another issue, the school body on Monday approved both the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school calendars.
Board program Chair Rona Wenik noted the only change in the previously-approved 2013-2014 calendar was the addition of dates in May for NJASK testing of those in seventh and eighth grades and that the proposed 2014-2015 calendar was very much like the calendars of the past two years, including a midwinter recess in February and a spring recess in April.
During the discussion of the 2014-2015 calendar, however, board member Rupali Wadhwa said the district should consider adding the Indian celebration of the festival of lights, known as DiWali, to the calendar.
She said the celebration of the feast, which marks fresh starts and a new beginning in a new year, would give students a greater appreciation of the community's diversity and more respect for other cultures.
She also said that, unlike other nonreligious and noncultural holidays where students remain in school but study the significance of these holidays, DiWali has religious and cultural significance and schools, therefore, should be closed on that day.
Wadhwa said the date of the holiday moves every year but in 2014 it would be celebrated on Oct. 23. The superintendent indicated that, when the district decided if, and how it would add Diwali, it could add days to make up for the closure at the end of the school year.
Board member John Westfall-Kwong, however, noted that the school board needed more time to study whether to include Diwali on the calendar but should vote on the calendar as originally proposed so parents could more easily plan vacations. Several board members agreed with him.
When the time came to vote on the measure, Wenik, board president Jeffrey Waters, and board members Eric Siegel and Michael Birnberg voted for it. Regina Truit joined Wadhwa in voting against it and Chapman and Westfall-Kwong abstained.
On another matter, newly-elected board member Chase Harrison, who will take a seat for a one-year term in January, said the district should include freshmen and sophomores at Millburn High School when offering advanced placement human geography rather than restricting the course to high school seniors as listed on the agenda for Monday's board meeting.
Harrison said, since the course was considered somewhat easier than other advanced placement courses and freshman advanced placement courses did not count toward a student's overall grade average, it would give underclassman a good taste of advanced placement courses.
The board voted to approve the course only for high school seniors.