CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael LaSusa addressed the number of investigations into HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) and detailed the religious curriculum in the Superintendent's Newsletter: February 2017 made available to parents in the district on Tuesday afternoon.
LaSusa had been questioned by parents about the emphasis of Islam in a Chatham Middle School class at the Feb. 6 at the last Chatham Board of Education meeting and, recently responded to a national television show, in which it was said he refused to meet with the parents.
Below is a portion of the newsletter that relates to HIB in the district. To read the entire newsletter go to the district website or CLICK HERE.
The exchange of ideas—a foundational component of public education—is not possible without respect. Yet in recent months I have received direct reports from staff members and from parents about disrespectful actions on the part of some of our students.
Our staff has so far investigated 44 potential acts of HIB in the district, a number on pace to exceed the total of 62 incidents last year. We have confirmed more acts of HIB involving anti-Islamic or homophobic words/actions than were confirmed in those areas all of last year. Further, we have had to address other problematic behavior outside of HIB-related investigations.
For example, one concerned parent informed me recently that her child, who holds a conservative political view, was mistreated for expressing his opinions. All of this is unacceptable. In the context of six schools, 4231 students, and more than 100 days of school completed thus far, the reality is that the above incidents represent a tiny, tiny fraction of the interactions that take place on a daily basis.
In fact, our discipline data over the past number of years show that our schools are exceedingly orderly and safe, with strong cultures of learning. The truth is that our students are overwhelmingly respectful, hard working, and upstanding. Ditto our parents—a more supportive community there is not. I believe that our school district is a special place, with special people, all of whom want what is best for children
LaSusa expounded on the religious curriculum in the district in a section titled: Teaching about Religion in Our Curriculum. A portion of his overview is quoted below:
The inclusion of instruction about religious and cultural issues and themes in our curriculum has been a subject of discussion recently. The New Jersey State Department of Education establishes the standards to which our schools are held. Religious topics appear throughout the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, notably in one of the Cumulative Progress Indicators within Social Studies Standard 6.2, which in part calls for students to “Compare and contrast the tenets of various world religions . . . (i.e., Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Taoism), their patterns of expansion, and their responses to the current challenges of globalization.”
Our teachers and supervisors develop curricular units and lessons around the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, and do so over the entire K- 12 curriculum. It is important to consider standards and topics over time, and not in the context of only a single lesson or unit. It is also important to recognize that no topic or instructional matter appears in a vacuum. Our teachers provide context, learning objectives, discussion, and instruction in what they teach.
It would be impossible to capture in a document like this all of the instructional and curricular work our students receive about various religions of the world. However, some examples of instruction about religion include: introducing students at an early age to how Christmas is celebrated in various parts of the world, as well as to the traditions of Hanukkah and Diwali; examining the split of the Church of England and the beliefs of Separatist groups that ultimately left for America; comparing and contrasting the world’s great religions and philosophy systems, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, and Legalism; exploring the history of the Holocaust in a required course for all eighth graders; learning about the Protestant Reformation, the Puritans and Pilgrims, the Mayflower Compact,
The Great Awakening, and how religious expression shaped the founding and establishment of the American colonies; how the First Amendment features so prominently in our governing documents; and so forth.