Education

Motion to Draft Statement Regarding Support of Diversity in Schools Fails, Board Says Role is Always to Educate All

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With discussions over whether they should just simply draft a statement instead of a resolution, the board of education was dead-locked in a vote regarding a motion to publicly support the diversity of the district and all the students.

The vote was tied at 4-4, with board member Lisa Weinstock absent from the meeting, so the motion officially failed.

A resolution was approved in Piscataway recognizing that the district is committed to providing an education to all students, regardless of race, religion, country of origin and more.

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The resolution was first discussed at the Feb. 14 board of education meeting, but some board members said they believe it is too political for a board of education to address. Many also acknowledged that it is already part of their duty as a district to educate all students, and they fully support that. 

Some members said they would be concerned about putting this in writing if, in the future, a mandate were to come down from the state or federal government that would appear to go against that commitment to diversity.

Board member Jacqueline Barlow re-addressed the resolution at the Feb. 28 meeting, and said she thinks it is still something the board should consider in light of comments from residents.

Board member Barry Walker suggested that a committee among the board draft a resolution or simply a statement that stresses the fact that the board is committed to educating every child.

But board member Lynne Hurley questioned the purpose of releasing such a statement.

“Our obligation is to educate any child living in Bridgewater, it doesn’t matter where they come from,” she said. “That’s what we do, and that’s our job.”

Barlow said they should reaffirm that that is the job of the board.

Board member Jeffrey Brookner said he is very opposed to a resolution, but wouldn’t necessarily be against a statement.

“The board’s role is to follow the law, implement the law and do what is best for the kids,” he said. “To pass a resolution that touches on political things that are beyond our role and beyond our power is not just unnecessary, but wrong. It’s not our place.”

A statement, Brookner said, might be different, but he does believe the fact that the topic has been discussed in open public is actually a good thing.

“All nine of us were here last time, and at the time we were pretty emphatic that we don’t disagree with anything that would be in a resolution,” he said.

Brookner said the board has to be careful with what it says.

“We’re living in a very rapidly changing world and a climate that may or may not change,” he said. “From both sides of the political section, the schools have been considered sacrosanct, and no one has said anything that would challenge that.”

“It’s poking a stick in the eye of the bear that’s not even attacking us,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any reason for us to get involved at this time.”

Hurley agreed.

“I like to fight back, but I don’t want to poke the bear,” she said. “I understand the climate is political, and I support every child that lives in Bridgewater and Raritan, and I want to give them the best possible education.”

“But I don’t necessarily think we need to put that in writing at this time,” she added.

Barlow said she believes there may be some families in the district concerned about the issue. She made a motion to have a statement or resolution written.

“There may be people in the community who might be concerned about this, and a statement from us might reassure them,” she said.

Brookner said he doesn’t think a statement would make much difference.

“It’s not like some student is going to be scared to come to school and then will decide to come to school because of what the board of ed says,” he said. “We’re wading into an issue that is way higher than us.”

Board president Jill Gladstone suggested the possibility of adding a line to their policy regarding the mission statement of the district to reaffirm the commitment to educating all children.

Board vice president Melanie Thiesse said she remembers when the board released a statement against PARCC, taking a stand in response to concerns from parents and the community as a whole.

“With this, I don’t think we would hear as much from the community, but even if this helps one child, I think it’s something at least worth exploring,” she said. “Why can’t we make a statement that says we hear you, we see you, if you are out there, we are going to still support you and educate you.”

Still, board members were torn on whether it is appropriate to release any kind of statement in this political environment when there has not been anything released against the schools.

In the end, Walker, Barlow, Gladstone and Thiesse were the four votes in favor of drafting a statement, while Brookner, Hurley, board member Ann Marie Mead and board member Dan Petrozelli were the votes against.

With a tie vote, the motion to draft a statement failed.

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