MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A state appointed mediator has been named in the South Orange-Maplewood School District (SOMSD) and the South Orange-Maplewood Education Association (SOMEA) mediation proceedings set to begin next week.

The Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) will be handling the mediation; the state appointed mediator is Mary Beth Hennessy-Shotter, the director of conciliation & arbitration at PERC.

If an agreement is reached it will be binding on both parties, said district communications director Anide Eustache. The mediation process is voluntary and carries no guarantee that there will be a resolution.

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When asked if the district would consider taking to SOMEA to court should the mediation fail, Director Eustache responded, “Upon the advice of counsel, the mediation process and a legal proceeding are not mutually exclusive. We are mindful that the South-Orange Maplewood community has elected the board to carry out its educational policy and that the sentiment is to return to in-person instruction safely and as soon as possible.”

The district also put out a press releasepdf today, which includes stating that the administration was “disappointed and blind-sided [sic] by SOMEA’s decision to not have teachers’ report for in-person teaching for Tues., February 16.  After reviewing SOMEA’s most recent letter, the District respectfully disagrees with regard to SOMEA’s assessment regarding rooms, safety measures, and other issues presented. 

It is uncertain how long the mediation process could take. The district press release said of the process, “We do this not because we are angry with our teachers, but because we love our students and are committed to serving our families who have been not only patient but very supportive.” 

The district has committed to keeping the community apprised. “We will provide updates as often as necessary and with as much information as is appropriate so that we can continue to be open and transparent about our building readiness, our phased reopening plan, and keep parents informed as we move conservatively toward a normal school year with in-person instruction,” wrote Eustache.

The district declined to comment on the advice of counsel about any ground rules they have agreed to with SOMEA prior to mediation.

TAPinto SOMA posed the same questions to SOMEA; they have not responded by publication time.


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