SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The South Orange Maplewood School District sent a letter by email to the school community at about 9 p.m. on Sunday night affirming the district's commitment to equity.

The letter, which is signed by Elizabeth A. Baker, President of the Board of Education, and John J. Ramos, Sr. Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools, is in response to recent events at local schools which included racist graffiti in the bathroom of South Orange Middle School, swastikas on a desk at South Mountain school, and parent concern about a recent project at South Mountain School in which some students created posters depicting slave auctions as part of the fifth grade study of Colonial America.

The letter emphasized the school district's commitment to equity, writing " Our communities and district have not, cannot, and will not abide bias or intolerance of any kind."

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The full letter is below:

March 12, 2017

Dear South Orange Maplewood School Community,

South Orange Maplewood School District and our two towns pride ourselves on our diversity and commitment to inclusion. In an increasingly divided America, we have consciously chosen SOMA as the community to foster our children’s social and educational growth. In doing so, we must embrace all the opportunities and challenges inherent in striving for an inclusive and equitable community.

As issues of intolerance and exclusion continue to plague our country, the reality is that schools are a microcosm of society, and are not immune to what goes on around us. 

We are writing this letter together to reinforce that we are committed to realizing the goals of equity which are foundational to South Orange and Maplewood. Our communities and district have not, cannot, and will not abide bias or intolerance of any kind. 

Our Board of Education has repeatedly and unequivocally articulated the district’s commitment to ensuring that the dignity and rights of every member of our school community are respected. We understand that celebrating diversity is not the same as embracing it, and that the adoption of policies is only one step. We all acknowledge that there are significant hurdles and historic inequities that are embedded in institutions at every level.  We have much more, intensely difficult and self-reflective, work to do as we examine and correct decades of individual and institutional, explicit and implicit bias.  As a community, we must not only recognize the resulting manifestations and harm, but work together with honesty and diligence towards solutions.

There is considerable work taking place in our schools on school climate, anti-bias education, culturally responsive teaching and restorative practices. The District is committed to this work and is planning to expand all these efforts in the coming year – despite the constraints on our resources. This is a top priority. Hate, bias and intimidation have no place in our inclusive school community. 

This is the most important work of our time. It is also the hardest. As we work with all of our hearts and energies, we know that there will be mistakes along the way, and there will be times that we stumble as we take risks in curriculum, instructional practices and other pertinent areas. That does not take away from the fact that we are in this endeavor, together, to be successful and to make good on our promise to give our children the support and tools they need to create a better future. We do not ask for you to be patient with us. We ask for you to partner with us. 

As we have discussed in the past, we must be intentional in our work to avoid the “us” versus “them” mindset which can take hold. This is particularly important when children err – committing acts that seem to fly in the face of our community’s values and causing harm.  While we of course address these choices appropriately, we must also remember that every child is a valued member of our school community, and deserves our support and guidance, even when they err.  As our school communities respond, it is important to focus on the fact that everyone is committed to empowering our students within an atmosphere of equity, excellence, and respect. 

We are on the same side.

In the next few weeks, we will be holding a town hall meeting and we hope you will join us in a healthy and productive dialogue to help us move forward. We will provide a detailed overview of policy implementation, professional development, curriculum revisions, and programs currently underway. Then, as a community, we will discuss current issues facing our schools. We hope to work together to optimally serve your children, our children, the students of South Orange and Maplewood.

In partnership,

Elizabeth A. Baker - President of the Board of Education                                              

John J. Ramos, Sr. Ed.D. -  Superintendent of Schools

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