MAPLEWOOD, NJ — James H. Davis III, chairman of the board of trustees of Black Parents Workshop, has emailed an open letter to South Orange Maplewood School District Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor. He copied 22 individuals: those who will be school board members as of 2020, members of the press, some school district employees, and others active in local education advocacy. Taylor issued a response only 15 minutes later, saying "Good evening and thank you for your correspondence. We acknowledge receipt of your email and will review and respond accordingly." The text of the email is as follows:

Dr. Taylor, 

While there are a number of addresses on this email, I have prepared this message of my own volition as Chairman of Black Parents Workshop. I have also only included board of education members who will be present in 2020 since I surmise that the resolution of this topic will not occur in 2019.

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For weeks now, there have been stories about “security” issues at the high school.  The problem with the existence of multiple versions of stories is that parents never seem to know the truth.  Recently, the district issued a letter regarding an intruder at the high school that was less than clear when compared to the notification provided by the Maplewood Police Department.  The fact that a law enforcement agency would feel the need to issue its own statement independent of the school district is a testament to the fact that this district has a security problem that it is failing to address.  

I have taken the liberty of attaching the current security agreement between the company that provides district-wide security guards for the district.  

I have a few questions regarding this document:

a. Who decides how many security guards are needed in a daily basis at the high school and middle schools?

b. What were the factors used (i.e. data) to determine the current staffing number?

c. What training are the security guards required to take before working in the district?

d. Who does the security supervisor report to at each school where security personnel are located?

e. Have the security personnel been trained in addressing de-escalation tactics with respect to minors and children with disabilities? If so, what are the specifics of the training?

f. What meetings have been held between the security company, Tom Shea and any district leadership to address the day to day issues for the district? May we see a record of any meetings? 

g. What role do principals and administrators play with respect to the chain of command in addressing crisis events at the schools?  For example, who is the point of contact for the high school during a code yellow or a code red?  Is it the principal?  Are the security guards required to report to the principal or to Tom Shea?

h. Is there a security policy manual or handbook?

i.  What are the state law requirements when it comes to students being found with drugs or alcohol or being intoxicated at school events? When is the district required to notify the police?

These are only a small portion of questions that I have formulated after reviewing the contract.  Personally, I found the contract to be lacking in several areas that pertain to most of my questions above and that is disconcerting.  

j. Who negotiates these contracts for the district?  

k. Does the negotiator have any expertise in the area of security so that the negotiator knows what requests to make before the district pays the security company? 

l. How are the security company and individual security guards evaluated for effectiveness?  

m. Who does a parent contact if there is an issue involving a security guard?

I am sure the people copied on this email will have their own additional questions and most likely have concerns similar and different than [sic] the concerns I am raising now.

Black Parents Workshop has also become aware that there have been some teachers that have also expressed concerns about this issue.  While it is easy to assume that SOMEA is working with the district in formulating a plan of action in the best interest of its members, I actually wont [sic] assume that SOMEA is acting in the best interest of the children of the district on this topic.

Despite the fact that this email is being sent solely by Black Parents Workshop, this serious matter transcends race and requires that the district use all deliberate speed to enhance and fortify the security of the high school, middle schools and elementary schools and to communicate with the parents of this district.

Below is an excerpt taken from the district website regarding school security in the district.

SOMSD Website: “The safety of our students and staff is always the highest priority for the South Orange Maplewood School District.  We coordinate our approach to school safety with the Police and Fire Departments of South Orange and Maplewood.  Security procedures are established for all of the schools – schools are locked, unauthorized visitors are prohibited, cameras monitor all who enter our buildings, and each school has a crisis management team.  We thoroughly review, evaluate, and update safety practices and security plans on a routine basis.”

  1. Based on the statements made above, the district is attesting that all schools are properly locked throughout the day.  Would you mind if Black Parents Workshop worked with the Maplewood Police Department to assess the veracity of the statements on the website?
  2. Who are the crisis management teams at each school?
  3. Would you be willing to share any and all security plans for each school for parents to review so that we had a better sense of how the district is protecting our children?

In closing, let me reiterate that Black Parents Workshop is respectfully requesting substantive responses to the above questions.  In light of the historical legacy of the district and the board of directors to be less than transparent regarding various topics, I am inviting anyone copied on this email to join Black Parents Workshop in reviewing any responses or materials gleaned from our requests.

What will not be acceptable is a mere acknowledgment of this email and a response from the district that alludes to some formation of a district “committee” that will address the problem.  We are requesting that interested parties be made aware of any and all meetings on this topic and informed of issues, matters and proposals that the district must address.  We are not asking for access to confidential information, but we are demanding that the district address this matter expeditiously and in the open.

Best regards,

James H. Davis III

Chairman, Black Parents Workshop