MONTCLAIR, NJ – Members of the Montclair Education Association united together in solidarity during the first public meeting of the year hosted by Montclair Board of Education on Monday night at the George Inness Annex Atrium on Park Street.

Presiding over the standing-room-only meeting were Superintendent Kendra Johnson, Board President Laura Hertzog, Jessica de Koninck, Latifah Jannah, Joseph Kavesh, Anne Mernin, Eve Robinson, Emidio D’Andrea and Priscilla Church.

At least 400 people filled the atrium, including almost all MEA members who waited over three hours until the public comment portion of the meeting to voice their displeasure over alleged comments made last month by Kavesh towards MEA President Petal Robinson.

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“We are an advocacy association and we must advocate for President Robertson,” said Tom Manos, Vice President of MEA.  “When Mr. Kavesh verbally attacked President Robinson on December 17, he attacked our entire association.”

Manos was the first of around 20 MEA members to address the board.  The MEA seemed further agitated that the board prolonged the meeting unnecessarily to force some of the members to leave due to the late hour prior to getting their chance to speak.

Manos continued, “the people that have taught and cared for Montclair’s children, the people that have held this district together through rotating administrations, the people that maintain calm and stayed late during the snow storm and this board of education meeting, the people that show up to work day in and day out – often in inadequate and sometimes dangerously outdated facilities – and when you (Mr. Kavesh) implied that because an educator leaves Montclair at the end of their workday they don’t have to deal with decisions that affect students in the community, you call into question the dedication of hundreds of educators across this district.”

During a separate student portion of public comments, which was held earlier in the meeting, about 15 students from MHS addressed the board regarding their unhappiness with the proposal to eliminate dance classes from fulfilling physical education requirements.

“Dance is an imperative part of numerous students’ school day,” said one female MHS student.  “For me, it’s a chance to express myself creatively.  Dance has positively impacted the lives of those at MHS.  Making dance an elective would eliminate the opportunity for numerous students (who can’t afford it otherwise) to take a dance class within school.”

According to another student speaker, an online petition within the township has garnered approximately 500 signatures supporting the efforts to keep dance in the physical education program.

At the start of the meeting prior to the public student comments, Superintendent Johnson said, “we are not dismantling the dance program,” but did not elaborate in detail about its future.

In an Operations and School Supports Services matter, ‘Option B’ plan was voted unanimously for Montclair High School to recoup two instructional days on the 2018-19 school calendar to ensure the required number of school days for all students and staff.

MHS was closed for instruction on September 11 and 12 due to structural issues.  School will be in session for MHS students on March 1 and May 24 on an abbreviated day schedule.

During the Superintendent’s Report, there was a singing performance from the Wizard of Oz production by Watchung School Students, and a dance performance by Buzz Aldrin School students.

“We are so fortunate to have two schools perform this evening and showcase our teaching and learning throughout the district,” said Superintendent Johnson.  “We know they are going to demonstrate some of their diverse talent.”

The dance group will be performing at a winter concert on January 31 at 7 pm.

In Presentations to the Board, a 2018-19 District Enrollment Report and Restorative Justice updates were provided.

The next public meeting of the Montclair Board of Education is Wednesday, February 6, 5:30 pm in the George Inness Annex Atrium.  The meeting will go into closed session until approximately 7:30 pm when it will re-open to the public.