BERKELEY HEIGHTS — The new year sees the Board of Education grappling with challenges on multiple fronts.

Continued spikes of COVID-19 and the looming possibility of superspreader gatherings await the newly elected Berkeley Heights Board of Education members Joy Young, Robert Cianciulli and Mountainside representative, Jordan Hyman.

The 2020-2021 school year has shown that even with the district implementing stringent safety precautions outlined by the state, it is only possible to control and not prevent COVID-19 from infecting students and faculty.

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In the coming year, it will remain to be seen whether the curve will flatten and students will begin to see school normalize without fear of disruption. 

Related article: Elementary Teachers Call Upon Board to Reconsider Jan. 11 Reopening Citing Safety Concerns Over COVID-19.  

Outside the pandemic, the Berkeley Heights and Mountainside communities were met with revelations of discrimination and harassment from a past student at Governor Livingston High School. David Urbanke a former student from Governor Livingston described on Instagram events that forced him to drop-out before his date of graduation. He feared for his safety after incessant bullying for being gay.

Urbanke’s story, among others surfacing in its wake, has led the Board of Education to hire an outside law firm to investigate reported instances of discrimination and harassment — and form a task force to investigate past cases. 

Superintendent Mellisa Varley outlined district policy on Thursday, Jan. 7.

As an update on the status of the investigation regarding the recent Instagram posts discussed at the December 21st BOE meeting, as of today, we have approximately 45 current and former students who spoke, posted, or both. By law, HIB incidents reported by current students must be investigated by the district’s Anti-Bullying Specialists.

Incidents that were reported by former students will be investigated by Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieiri and Jacobs, who specialize in education law.  We are using an outside attorney to be transparent as possible. 

There were many individuals who could not be identified. If a student wishes to report an allegation, they may do so through the district anonymous reporting system.

If a former student has an allegation or a grievance, they may use our attorney’s email address to report it: BHFormerStudents@cgajlaw.com. Once the investigations are complete, we will determine our next steps. 

During the public portion of the meeting, Varley said task force meetings could begin as early as this month.

New Board

Last Thursday, Jan. 7, the Berkeley Heights Board of Education swore in its three newest members in addition to electing a Board President and Vice President.

During the meeting’s official business, the board elected Doug Reinstein to serve another year as Board of Education President with all board members voting for Reinstein except for Cianciulli who voted no. Additionally, Michael D’Aquila was elected Vice President by his colleagues.

Joy Young and Robert Cianciulli will join the governing body after winning election last November.

Jordan Hyman now sits on the Board of Education as a representative of the Mountainside School District. 

Next Meeting

The 2021 Berkeley Heights Board of Education meeting schedule was authorized by the board and can be found HERE.

The next Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday, Feb. 4 through the online platform Zoom.