MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The final South Orange-Maplewood School Board meeting of 2019 was held on Monday evening, minus one school board member. Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad's seat was empty on Dec. 16, as she serves a 30-day suspension for a traffic incident that made national headlines; in April 2018 she was caught on police dash-cam attempting to influence a South Orange police officer's decision to ticket her for speeding by mentioning her position as a school board official. She was also caught making a racially insensitive comment about the South Orange Police Chief. She has stated her reaction was born of fear.

As a result, Lawson-Muhammad, who is finishing her second term, was suspended for two ethic violations by the NJ Education commissioner for six months; it was reduced to 30 days on appeal. Despite the suspension, which began on November 19, Lawson-Muhammad, who lost her bid for re-election in November, was on hand sitting among the public. She also stepped to the mic to address the committee during the public speaks portion of the meeting. Her focus was the bonding construction and timeline as part of a 160 million capital improvement plan for the South Orange/Maplewood schools. Her inquiries were addressed.

Superintendent Ronald Taylor says the plan includes the elementary schools first, beginning with The Clinton School, before the next phase which includes the secondary schools. According to Board of Education Second Vice President Anthony Mazzocchi, the work at The Clinton School is expected to take three years. Business Administrator Paul Roth said that the architects have recommended geothermal heating and cooling systems that would serve the main buildings. Asbestos and environmental testing has begun too. 

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The construction will require relocating students to different classrooms within the building as the work commences, according to Mazzocchi. Also, plans to add additional facilities for faculty are being addressed too, along with some security measures including potential guest entrances directly into the main offices, rather than through the school hallways.

Taylor, who has been on the job since July, also discussed new and improved ways for the district to get important information to the public. This would include monthly updates via newsletter and social media such as Twitter. “People need to know what’s going on,” Taylor stated emphatically, including school closings and delayed openings such as the one he was anticipating Tuesday morning — which did happen — due to the expected inclement weather.  

In other agenda items, the board approved its 2020-2021 school calendar. One change of note: There will be a full week break in November.

Before the meeting kicked off, outgoing board member First Vice President Susie Adamson was presented with a plaque for her service. She thanked her fellow committee members for challenging and encouraging her. She also thanked Taylor and former Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra.