First I want to acknowledge the work the current Board of Education is doing on making schools safer. As reported by several advocates in the community on this issue and Doug Reinstein, the district is moving forward in implementing changes to family involvement and data reporting when it comes to law enforcement activities in school. I want to thank those that initiated the request formally in March. The proposal was posted on various forums, local news outlets, submitted to the Town Council and BOE for review during public meetings. This is good and wise and I will reserve a history of my past positions on this issue to give this process of change the space and respect it deserves. It appears that the outcome of this process will preserve those elements of the programs many families in our community support while addressing the concerns many families on the other side of this issue have expressed.

With that said, we need to move to a more comprehensive discussion of safety. School shootings are not close to being the main reason why our children are dying. Suicide is a leading cause of death among teens, substance use and dependence as well as behavioral health issues are significant in their contribution to this problem. Our educators and school counselors as well as parents are doing their best to figure out ways to support our children through good decision-making and effective resources to address these vulnerabilities.

There is also a contradiction of sorts when it comes to safety, many measures schools are taking to improve safety are not evidenced to achieve this outcome and, at the same time, creating potentially significant vulnerabilities in children's psychological well-being and academic performance. Special needs students and children of color are especially prone to some of the downsides inherent in the blunt force application of safety measures that has taken over our country’s schools.

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We must arrive at a balance that all parents and students are comfortable with, a way of improving safety while at the same time maintaining the educational soul of our schools.

In my last candidate statement on technology (https://bit.ly/2Hfbb7g) I discussed the need to leverage technology and pool community resources to resource and improve the efficiency and efficacy of interventions provided to students. As a mother of a child of color with special needs, this is an area close to my heart. Our responsibility as a District does not end when the school bell rings and our efforts beyond school walls does not have to mean increased spending.

We are a small community and this gives us certain advantages in addressing the areas of mental health and substance dependence. We can be agile with community based interventions and work to reduce risk factors in ways that feel warm, non-clinical, organic and bring the strengths of our families together to support each child. Prevention is our best approach and our District can be a powerful force for good in leveraging our strengths to this end.

One starting point can begin with the research. One example that we can explore is the body of work done by Dr. Harvey Milkman, a psychologist whose ideas demonstrated success in Denver and Iceland.

“We didn’t say to them, you’re coming in for treatment. We said, we’ll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts.” The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids’ brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life: some might crave an experience that could help reduce anxiety, others may be after a rush. At the same time, the recruits got life-skills training, which focused on improving their thoughts about themselves and their lives, and the way they interacted with other people.

“The main principle was that drug education doesn’t work because nobody pays attention to it. What is needed are the life skills to act on that information,” Milkman says. Kids were told it was a three-month program. Some stayed five years.”

Source:https://bit.ly/3k6aE6b

Schools alone cannot solve these problems, but they are where children spend much of their day, and we have a responsibility to leverage relationships they’ve developed throughout the community to a more coherent, community based and evidenced based approach to solving these problems.

We must explore ways that improve safety meaningfully, identify strategies that do not further institutionalize or bureaucratize our schools or scare our children into thinking the world is more dangerous than it really is. We can ensure safety while maintaining vibrant age appropriate school environments that encourage learning and curiosity.

Berkeley Heights is not Iceland or Denver, we do not have the bank account or even many of the same issues either area has. We do have a strong community with caring families and strong local businesses who are ready and willing to help.

If elected to BOE, I will seek to add coherency, evidence and sustainability to increasing real safety among our teens and children. Safety that is developed through friendships created by natural opportunities and an appreciation of diversity. I will work with students, parents, mental health professionals and local businesses to identify specific needs and solutions that make sense for our community and are supported by research.

My name is Sai Bhargivi Arkiri and I am running for the families and children of Berkeley Heights.

Past Candidate Statements and LWV Response: Initial Statement https://bit.ly/34qO2qu

"Building the Future: A Community Based Approach to Re-Evaluating Technology" https://bit.ly/2Hfbb7g

"A Better way Forward: Community Based Approaches to Solving Challenges" https://bit.ly/310UgfI

"We Should be Better Than This" https://bit.ly/3nniTwP

"Children and Families above Special Interests": https://bit.ly/3jUycec

League of Women Voters Vote411 Responses: https://bit.ly/34qOghk

Announcements: Importance of Ground Up Survey Options for Parents, Students and Teachers. https://bit.ly/2HmXgfk

Importance of Non-Partisan BOE Campaigns: https://bit.ly/35eayn1

Call for Civility: https://bit.ly/3j3xwSJ

Position on OPRA: https://bit.ly/3iRj0NP

Feedback to the BOE on Learning Gaps: https://bit.ly/3lsogsO

"Setting the Record Straight" on Political Affiliations: https://bit.ly/2HPxPDt

"It's Time You had a Voice" https://bit.ly/3lqNnfz

Statements to the BOE on Remote Learning: https://bit.ly/31fhQ8T

Endorsements (to date):

Learn more at sai4boe.com