EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Following the East Brunswick Board of Education's "Open Session" portion of its recent meeting at which concerned parents spoke about bias incidents and language used in several schools, Superintendent Victor Valeski issued a statement today reinforcing the the district's "Less-Than-Zero Tolerance" policy regarding discrimination.
Parents came to Thursday's meeting to respond to an incident of anti-Semitic writing and a violent call to action at Churchill Middle School several weeks ago. Although some parents had already met with Principal Mark Sutor and Superintendent Valeski regarding the writing, they also expressed their feelings at the BOE meeting and requested that further action be taken. Parent John Dressner proposed that the BOE issue a statement regarding the district policy; increase the number of assemblies and student programs focusing on discrimination; and provide strategies for reducing prejudice through East Brunswick's Parent University.
Dressner further described the incident as presenting a "teachable moment" regarding public awareness of the policies already in place within the district.
Parent Olga Starr noted that residents were "not concerned with seeking discipline or punishment." "What we are talking about here is a culture. It is a mistake to treat this as an isolated incident. This is pervasive. This is a community issue." Starr also expressed concern that the district's not providing a formal statement would be an "implicit endorsement" of bias and discrimination. Starr also acknowledged, however, that the district handled the HIB (Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying) procedures regarding the threatening writing "beautifully." She, along with other speakers, referenced the police report filed by the schools after the event.
Lisa Dressner, parent, suggested that a district statement would "provide context" for both the incident and the climate in which it took place. Other parents referred to "incidents on the bus" and during less-structured time in school like passing time and lunch.
The public portion of the meeting concluded as BOE members met in their scheduled private session to discuss personnel matters. That part of the meeting lasted until 2:30 am.
Parent Jennifer Harmon, in an interview following the meeting said, "In East Brunswick, we are leaders. This is a top-notch school system. We need to be leaders in creating a better culture and environment for our students."
On Friday, TAPinto East Brunswick contacted Dr. Valeski and posed some questions regarding the meeting and the request for action regarding bias incidents in the district. Dr. Valeski advised TAP that the Board of Education would release a statement this morning, following attorney review. Here is the complete statement:
STATEMENT OF EAST BRUNSWICK BOARD OF EDUCATION REGARDING ITS LESS-THAN-ZERO TOLERANCE FOR INCIDENTS OF BIAS AND DISCRIMINATION IN OUR SCHOOL DISTRICT
Last month, the Board of Education learned of an incident at our junior high school involving anti-Semitic writings on a desk, which immediately prompted an internal investigation under Board Policies 5122 and 5600 – in conjunction with a criminal investigation by the East Brunswick Police Department; both of which remain open.
As parents, Board members, and East Brunswick residents, we were horrified and outraged that this occurred in our town and in our schools. Our District promotes respect and acceptance of our diverse students and staff. That is why we live in East Brunswick and why some of us work here. Yet, we go much further than that – we cherish our diversity. We teach it, through course offerings aimed at furthering respect and understanding and learning from history; we model it in our staffing and training; and we advance diversity and tolerance in our extracurricular programs, encompassing political interest clubs, religious organizations, world language societies, and LGBTQ interest groups, to name a few. In fact, the Board’s 2017-2018 tentative budget, which we approved last week, provides for additional extracurricular clubs and activities to further bolster these offerings.
While we are not legally permitted to discuss the specifics of ongoing investigations, we want to reiterate and stress that when the Administration learns of any incident, an investigation is immediately commenced. Students are interviewed, handwriting samples are analyzed, and, when there is physical evidence, as was in the Churchill Junior High School incident, photographs are taken. In every case involving potential criminal hate or bias acts, the East Brunswick Police Department is always contacted and a criminal investigation is commenced.
The District’s Policies and Comprehensive Equity Plan, which can all be found on our website, are all-inclusive and provide broad definitions of what constitutes hate and bias activities. Board Policy 5512, “Harassment, Hazing, Intimidation, Bullying and Cyber-Bullying,” is the cornerstone of our Policies. This Policy, which applies to the behavior on school grounds, prohibits “any gestures, any written, verbal, or physical act or any electronic communication… reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability or by any other distinguishing characteristic.” If any such behavior or actions takes place on school property or at a school-sponsored event, the student or students responsible face both “consequences” and “remedial measures.” In addition, any student found to have violated this Policy will have a permanent record of the incident irrespective of the age of the student. Our Pupil Discipline Policy, number 5600, also refers to our Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Policy by reference, reiterating the consequences of violating that Policy.
Consequences for violating these Board Policies can range from positive behavioral interventions up to and including suspension and expulsion. It can also include removal from the classroom, community service – and, as is in the case of potential criminal bias or hate incidents – referrals to law enforcement. Remedial measures, which are designed to prevent reoccurrence and to provide support for any victims, can include behavioral counseling, learning plans, social skill training, to name a few.
The District takes very seriously any allegations of bias or hate crimes. The Board has a less-than-zero tolerance policy for any such actions. In each and every reported case, the District immediately commences an investigation, and, in potential criminal cases of bias and hate, reports to law enforcement. At the conclusion of an investigation, appropriate disciplinary consequences are imposed in accordance with Board Policies 5122 and 5600.
Our District has always been and will always be committed to providing our students and staff with a safe, inclusive, difference-cherishing environment free from bias, hate, and discrimination.