Chatham Parent Questions Board of Ed Policy on Political Campaigns; Grant Money Received from CEF

Alan Routh presents check to board of $18,500 from Chatham Education Foundation Credits: TAP Chatham
Chatham High senior Ella Maddi receives certificate from Chatham Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa Credits: TAP Chatham
Rebecca Sheasley, special education teacher at Southern Boulevard, was recognized to earning tenure Credits: TAP Chatham

CHATHAM, NJ - During the public portion of the Chatham Board of Education meeting on Monday night, parent Libby Hilsenrath, questioned the board about teachers following district policy regarding political activity.

According to Hilsenrath, she witnessed a political bumper sticker on the front wall of a classroom when she attended "Back to School Night." The bumper sticker endorsed two candidates in a recent presidential election. That prompted her to write to Board President Jill Critchley Weber about Policy No. 3233 regarding political activity. The portion of the policy Hilsenrath wrote to the board about states:

2. A teaching staff member shall not post political circulars or petitions on school premises nor distribute such circulars or petitions to pupils nor solicit campaign funds or campaign workers on 
school premises; 3. A teaching staff member shall not display any material that would tend to promote any candidate for office on an election day in a school facility that is used as a polling place;
After receiving an email response from Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa, who differentiated between a bumper sticker and a circular, Hilsenrath came to the BOE meeting for answers from the board members. She pointed out that she had directed her emails to the board, but had heard only from LaSusa.
"The board policy prohibits the use of school premises and school time for partisan political purposes," Hilsenrath said. "The regulation states that posting a political circular or petitions on a bulletin board are prohibited. If it's a flyer, a circular or a bumper sticker, the purpose is the same. It was there next to the picture of the person. The school is not a place for political purpose."

According to Hilsenrath, she was told in an email that "If it's not overt political activity, then it's okay.
"I don't think that's in keeping with the actual SDOC policy," Hilsenrath said. "You are not allowed to post political circulars and I consider a bumper sticker to be the equivalent of a political circular. I checked and it was not part of the curriculum for this particular class."
Board member Thomas Belding, chairman of the policy committee, encouraged her to write to him about the specifics and he would review it at their next committee meeting.

"Maybe the policy needs to be worded more precisely," Belding said. "As it is now, it is open to interpretation."

Hilsenrath was peppered with questions from the board, asking for specific details about the bumper sticker and where she saw it.

"It really is irrelevant, what grade, what class, what school," Hilsenrath said. "That's why I didn't include that in my comments. This is not part of the curriculum of that class. I think it's important to keep that out of the class."

In other business, Alan Routh wrote a check from the Chatham Education Foundation for $18,466.88 in grants. The grants were for Bee-Bot Buzz ($3,921.60); Second Step Early Learning Program ($379); Boogie Boards ($1,303.49); Bringing reading and writing to life: a day with author Elizabeth LaBan ($911.30); Power readers; reaching readers everywhere ($481.06); Enhancing multisensory word study through the use of touchphonics ($479.81); Chromebook cart for Spanish 4H pilot ($9,496.31), and Nonfiction sci-fi/fantasy sports literature, mystery and YA texts for independent reading library ($1,493.91).

  • Ella Maddi, a senior at Chatham High, received a certificate from the board for her work toward earning a Girl Scout Gold Award. Maddi constructed a beach volleyball court next to Haas Field at the middle school.
  • Rebecca Sheasley received high praise for her work with kindergarten/first graders from Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa when she was recognized at the board meeting for gaining tenure at Southern Boulevard School.
  • It was reported that there is preliminary talk about adding men's volleyball and women's ice hockey to the sports offered at Chatham High School. Board member Kim Cronin noted that Chatham currently offers the most sports programs, 39, of any school in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference. Board member Michelle Clark pointed out that 70 percent of CHS students participate in at least one sport.
  • The 23 tables for the Chatham Education Foundation's "Trivia Night," fundraiser set for Nov. 15, sold out in six minutes, according to board member Lata Kenney. There are 44 tables on the wait list. Chatham BOE members were able to secure one of the tables in the online registration. 

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