SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Thomas Ficarra, Interim Superintendent of the South Orange - Maplewood School District (SOMSD), sent the following email on Friday after a community meeting which was held on Thursday with Ficarra and parents/guardians of students at Marshall School regarding an "insensitive texting" incident involving school staff in December.

Ficara's email also included suggesting talking points for responding to questions from children.

Ficara's email began with the subject line, "Healing from Insensitive Texting Incident," and the text is as follows:

Sign Up for E-News

Dear SOMSD Families:

I met last night with Marshall School families to hear their concerns about an insensitive photo and text message sent by a staff member in December, and to share what I could, given the legal restrictions which prohibit public discussion of personnel matters. 

I began the meeting by affirming that the district is fully committed to the rights of all members of the community and will vigorously demand and ensure that all members of our community are able to work, learn and participate in every way, free from bias and intolerance in any form. 

I informed the families that swift and immediate action was taken relative to the facts that were known in December.  After a staff meeting on Tuesday, additional allegations were made, which are currently being investigated.  We are not able to publicly comment on the investigation.

Nevertheless, it is clear that this incident has impacted our community deeply.  While the internal personnel matters are addressed, I am also working with professionals trained in restorative practices to develop a multilayered, collaborative approach to help our community heal. 

I am committed to working with parents, teachers, administrators and students to ensure that everyone affected by the incident has a chance to repair and restore damaged relationships, and help the school community rebuild trust.

Since the incident is being covered by the press and in social media, your children may have questions.  We want to make sure that we guard against rumors, while also providing children with an opportunity to process what they have heard.  Below, we have provided suggested talking points that you can use in response to questions your children may ask.

I have committed to keeping the community informed of developments, within the constraints of what can and cannot be legally disclosed.

We appreciate your partnership, as we work together with kindness and respect for the dignity and rights of every member of our school community.  

Sincerely,

Dr. Thomas Ficarra

Interim Superintendent

Suggested Talking Points to Use With Children

  1. One of the core values of our community is that every student and staff member is an important part of our school family – everyone should feel that they are welcome, that they belong, and that they are valued and respected.
  2. You might have heard stories or rumors about one of our schools. We have heard stories as well, and we want to be very careful about spreading rumors.
  3. So far, what we know is that a staff member took an inappropriate photo of another staff member and texted it to a colleague.
  4. Right now there is an investigation into what happened so that we can fairly get all the facts from everyone's point of view.
  5. After all the facts are known, our district leaders will work hard to find a fair solution.
  6. Our family has an important part to play in making sure that everyone feels safe and welcome in our schools and in our community.
  7. This is a time that we can learn important lessons about being kind to one another, supporting each other, and doing our part to help to make things right if someone is hurt or treated unfairly.
  8. Right now, we don't have all the facts, but, we do know that anyone can make a mistake - even a big mistake.
  9. The important thing is that as a community we find a fair way to make it right for everyone who is involved and work together to make sure school is a safe place for you, and your classmates, and your teachers and other staff.