South Orange Maplewood School District Superintendent Responds to Bias Incidents

Superintendent John J. Ramos Credits: South Orange Maplewood School District

SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - John J. Ramos, Superintendent of the South Orange Maplewood School District (SOMSD), sent the following email to the school community in response to multiple incidents of racial bias and anti-Semitism that have occurred recently at district schools.

Dear South Orange Maplewood School District,

A recent series of incidents in our schools and in our community has prompted intense discussions around racism, anti-Semitism, bias awareness, culturally responsive curriculum, and other related topics. We are using this as an opportunity to renew our commitment to culturally responsive schools, and strengthen our partnerships with families and the larger community in this essential work.  

Sign Up for E-News

First, I must unequivocally affirm that SOMSD does not and will not tolerate bigotry or discrimination in our school community and we absolutely condemn anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and every other form of bias. 

This is a community that has made a determination to be diverse and inclusive. While that choice adds to the richness of our community, it also adds to the complexity and challenges with which we contend. As a school district, we must face the harsh facts as they relate to these challenges.  We cannot hide from them. We must admit our mistakes, which we will inevitably make, while being careful not to vilify children or staff.

Administrators take discovery or allegations of a bias incident very seriously and investigate thoroughly. Two parallel processes begin – one to identify and address what actually happened, and the other to use the incident as a teachable moment, and help all affected students process and learn from what happened.  An explanation of these parallel processes is attached.

We will always deal with individual students confidentially, using our code of conduct to address behaviors.  We have also begun using restorative practices to respond to incidents.  Restorative practices are a framework for building community and responding to destructive behavior through authentic dialogue that leads to action to set things right and repair and restore damaged relationships.  The process supports initiators in acknowledging and repairing the harm done, helps victims and witnesses process what happened, and helps the class or school community rebuild trust. We plan to expand training in restorative practices next year. 

While we address the student’s behaviors, we must remember that these are our young people, and use these teachable opportunities to shape their thinking and actions going forward.  They should not be vilified. Our job as educators is to respond to students’ less than desirable choices with appropriate consequences and guidance, in order to work to resolve what happened in such a way that our community remains whole.  We also partner with families to address what happened and ask families to help reinforce the key messages we are conveying at school at home as well.

In light of the recent increase in reports of bias incidents, we are reviewing all of our procedures and protocols for responding to bias incidents, to ensure consistent responses across the district.  We are also reviewing the Code of Conduct internally and plan to discuss it with the Board of Education’s Policy and Monitoring Committee, to determine whether we need to add more specific language about bias incidents, and related consequences.

The Administration, Board of Education and staff are working with instructional leaders and community leaders to chart out a broad range of next steps.  Since curriculum and instruction are the heart of everything we do, we are creating  a process by which our curriculum will be reviewed to ensure cultural sensitivity and responsiveness. This includes expanding elementary classroom libraries with additional books whose characters, settings and stories reflect our school community. We are also introducing new guidelines and supports for teachers to continuously examine their lesson plans and assignments for inclusiveness, bias and sensitivity.

We have retained an anti-bias consultant, Dr. Khyati Joshi, who is in her 3rd year of supporting our efforts in creating positive, bias-free cultures in all of our schools, and ensure culturally responsive delivery of our curriculum.  This year, Dr. Joshi provided in-depth training for 275 teachers in anti-bias education, social justice, and culturally responsive classrooms.  We also started the year with all new staff participating in a workshop on Striving for Social Justice. We have increased resources for cultural competency training for next year by allocating an additional $100,000 in the 2017-2018 budget.

In addition to providing teachers with the tools they need to create inclusive environments for their students, we also provide a host of opportunities directly to students themselves. This has recently included “Who Belongs” assemblies in our elementary schools, “It Starts with Hello” programming in grades K-8, “A Day of Kindness” and “Week of Respect” in all of our schools, the MAC Scholars program in secondary schools, student led forums at the high school, and many other initiatives.

We are committed to continuing to work together with students, parents, guardians, community members and agencies to create the inclusive schools and community which we all hope to build. This requires collective effort and forbearance when we inevitably stumble, while always holding ourselves and each other accountable as we move forward with this essential work.  

I look forward to continuing this dialogue and work with you in the coming months. We are planning a town hall meeting to address these important issues in the next few weeks, and will invite the community once the date is finalized.  You are also welcome to contact me at any time via Let’s Talk!

John J. Ramos

Parallel Processes in Responding to Bias Incidents

Administrators take discovery or allegations of a bias incident very seriously and investigate thoroughly. Two parallel processes begin – one to identify and address what actually happened, and the other to use the incident as a teachable moment, and help all affected students process and learn from what happened.  Steps may include:

Investigation, Discipline and Consequences

Helping All Affected  Students and School Community Heal


The situation is assessed for imminent danger, and addressed accordingly.


Initiators are helped to reflect on their actions, how they impacted other individuals and the school as a whole, and what they can do to help repair the harm. 


An investigation begins, to identify exactly what happened, who was involved, and determine next steps.

  • HIB allegations follow state mandated reporting procedures.
  • When necessary, law enforcement personnel conduct their own investigation, which may result in consequences outside of the school’s authority.


Students who were the target of or witnesses to the incident are helped to process what happened, as well as to reflect on what could be done to help restore their feeling of safety.



Once facts are ascertained, consequences are identified using the Code of Conduct as a guide, taking into account the nature and severity of the behaviors, and the developmental age of the students.

Consequences can range from referral to mediation, to loss of privileges, to short term suspension, to possible long term suspension or expulsion for infractions that are highly serious or cause imminent danger.

NOTE: The consequences are often not seen by anyone outside of staff, the student, and their family, since students are guaranteed privacy pursuant to Federal and State laws.


We work to rebuild trust with the class/grade/school by holding discussions focused on making every student feel included, and developing an action plan to ensure that every school member is helped to feel that they belong.

Depending on the severity of the incident, continuing morning meetings/advisory classes/student forums may include time to further discuss and carry out or reflect upon the class/community action plan.

If warranted, additional district social workers are deployed to help students and staff process the incident.

Families are informed of issues which directly affect their children and asked to reinforce school messages.

More significant incidents may also be brought to the attention of the full school, full district and/or to community leaders for a broader response.

Related articles

South Orange Maplewood School District Announces 'Commitment to Equity'

South Orange Maplewood School District Superintendent Addresses Parent Concerns About Fifth Grade Slave Auction Poster Assignment

Swastikas Found Drawn on Desk at South Mountain School

Racist Graffiti Found for Second Day in a Row at South Orange Middle School

Hate Crime Incident at South Orange Middle School on Tuesday

South Orange Middle School Principal Responds to Swastika Drawn in Bathroom Stall

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Could Former Schools Chief Be Involved in Picking His Replacement?

Could former South Orange Maplewood Schools Superintendent John Ramos, who resigned last summer after just two tumultuous years, have a hand in choosing his replacement?

It’s possible since Ramos works for one of the search firms that initially submitted proposals for the contract to conduct the search, Hazard Young Attea Associates (HYA) of Schaumburg, IL.

HYA, along with Ray and ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 16

Summer is in the air, and the latest episode of AtlantiCast is ready to help you enjoy some fun outdoors while staying safe! This week’s episode opens with tips for sunscreen usage from Atlantic Health System’s Chief Medical and Academic Officer, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller. You’ll also learn about how Atlantic Health System is advancing the future of health care through ...

South Orange Police Blotter: Robbery Reported on South Orange Avenue

June 16, 2018

South Orange Police Blotter as of June 16

Robbery - An Alpha, NJ resident reported that he was robbed on Sunday, June 3, at approximately 12:30 a.m. while he was walking on South Orange Avenue near Scotland Road. The victim stated that he was approached by three unknown actors who punched him and knocked him to the ground. The actors then stole his cell phone and wallet ...

Maplewood Police Blotter - Two Home Burglaries Reported

June 4, 2018, Burglary; Sometime during the daytime hours, a home on the 100 block of Midland Blvd was forcibly entered.  At the time of the report it was unknown what the proceeds were.

June 4, 2018; Thefts; During the overnight hours a metal rack was stolen from outside of a business on the 200 block of Elmwood Ave.

June 5, 2018; Motor Vehicle Theft; During the overnight hours, a van ...

Fifth Annual Two Towns Triathlon for Kids Postponed Until September Due to South Orange Pool Still Being Closed

June 14, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The 5th Annual Two Towns Triathlon for Kids, originally scheduled to be held in South Orange on Saturday, June 16, has been postponed until Saturday, September 8, according to an update on the South Orange website. 


The postponement is because the South Orange Community Pool is still closed for the season due to construction delays with the filter ...

Second Year of Maplewood South Orange Book Festival Brings Authors and Readers Together

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Anna Quindlen. Rosemary Wells. Keith Hernandez. Tayari Jones. These are just a few of the authors who were speakers at the Second Annual Maplewood South Orange Book Festival on Saturday.

The book festival, which attracted about 2,000 attendees according to organizers, had a full day of author panels covering a wide range of topics that included "#MeToo: From ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, June 18, 7:00 PM

Montclair Public Library, Montclair

Trump’s Trade War & Impact of the New Tariff Plan

Tue, June 19, 6:30 PM

Millburn Free Public Library, Millburn

Memoir Writing Class at Millburn Library

Arts & Entertainment

Tue, June 19, 7:00 PM

Clifton Public Library, Clifton

Bariatric Seminar-Weight Loss That Works

Health & Wellness

Wed, June 20, 6:30 PM

Pleasantdale Chateau , West Orange

Taste & Toast Gala

Giving Back Religions And Spirituality

Lecia Bianca Jewels Creates a Bridge to Make Bloomfield Center the Next Style Destination

June 16, 2018

BLOOMFIELD, NJ - The Bloomfield Center renaissance continues as Lecia Bianca Jewels becomes a style destination on main thoroughfare in this Essex County Community. Lecia Clay, owner of the boutique, describes her jewelry as 'bridge jewelry,' - pieces that are in a space between costume jewelry and fine jewelry, while having value. 

'Lecia Bianca' is the ...

Record Number Attends West Essex YMCA's Sixth Annual Bike Livingston

LIVINGSTON, NJ — On the heels of National Bike Safety Month in May, a new record of nearly 500 Livingston riders participated in the sixth annual Bike Livingston event, a family-oriented bike tour of Livingston’s neighborhoods hosted each year by the West Essex YMCA on the first Sunday in June.

With three routes to choose from—a four-mile route around the ...

Applications to Rutgers Jumps Nearly 10 Percent; Increase From Out-of-State Students

June 15, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Applications to Rutgers University this year increased 9.4 percent over last year, university President Robert Barchi told the Board of Governors at a meeting this week.

The university received nearly 45,000 applications this year, Barchi said.

That included a 20 percent increase in the number of students from outside New Jersey applying to Rutgers, the university ...

Students Lead ‘Die-In’ at Congressman Lance’s Office; Summit Boy Arrested

WESTFIELD, NJ — Seventeen-year-old Summit High School student Ben Schachter was taken away in handcuffs Tuesday during a gun safety “die-in” protest led by local high school students at Congressman Leonard Lance's Westfield office. Lance was not present at the office at the time.

“We are organizing this ‘die-in’ at Congressman Lance’s ...

Founder of Moms Helping Moms Foundation Receives NJ State Governor’s Jefferson Award

June 18, 2018

Each year the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards highlight the spirit of civic engagement among New Jersey’s 1.5 million volunteers and provide Jefferson Awards medals in 22 categories of volunteer service.   

The 2018 New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards presentation ceremony and celebration of volunteerism was held at the War ...

Columbia High School Cougar Marching Band Looking for New Members

Calling All Columbia High School and Middle School Musicians!

It’s time to register for the CHS Cougar Marching Band! All CHS students (and rising 8th graders with a commitment and focus to band -- speak to your middle school band teacher if interested!) are invited to join the marching band! Don’t play an instrument but want to participate? We’re ...

First Time Ever July 3rd Circus Performances and Zipline!

First Time Ever July 3rd Circus Performances and Zipline!

Come to the Circus July 3rd or July 4th

There are 5 performances to choose from: Tuesday, July 3rd, at 4:30 pm & 7 pm; Wednesday, July 4th, at 1 pm, 3:30 pm & 6 pm.— Wristband Sales Online

The Zerbini Family Circus will perform rain or shine under the Big Top in Memorial Park's north athletic field. Go ...