MAPLEWOOD, NJ — During the July 20 SOMSD Board meeting, Superintendent Ronald Taylor responded to questions from the community about the 2020-2021 school year with assurances that the upcoming school year will be more equitable than years past.

The concurrence of the pandemic and the settlement of the Black Parents Workshop case has the issues of inequity and safety at the forefront for many SOMA residents. During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, Dr. Taylor responded to questions that were sent in on Webex or by a Google form.

The first submission questioned the compliance of SOMSD employment practices, citing a statistic from the 2018-2019 school year finding that over 70% of the district's teachers are white. In the settlement with the BPW, the district committed to forming relationships with HBCUs to include more black candidates in the hiring process.

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“The diversity of our teaching staff is definitely seen as a concern and a goal that the board and I discussed in last week's retreat,” said Dr. Taylor. “We know that it's better for our students when they see instructors who reflect what the classroom and the district demographics are.”

A question raised by one resident asked how the district would address the needs of those students who are without a computer or consistent internet access. As long as the pandemic continues it is likely that there will be some form of online instruction incorporated into the students curricula.

Dr. Taylor responded that the district has given out approximately 1,000 Chromebooks. He said they also conducted a survey for connectivity issues, set up hotspots and worked with the towns to set up in home WiFi. He added that the district will continue to help students dealing with technology issues, as long as they need it, whether that ends up being just in the fall or even through winter.

The students of the MAPSO Youth Coalition submitted a comment announcing that they will be delaying the release of their student bill of rights that they hope the district will adopt. They cited a need for more responses to the surveys they sent out. One survey is for students and the other for teachers and administrators. Respondents are asked to share their experiences in the SOMSD and what they think should be included in the bill of rights.

MAPSO youth also asked for a guarantee that all teachers will accept late work in the 2020-2021 school year to accommodate the differing home situations of the district's students. They asserted that a uniform policy for turning in late work creates a more equitable system. 

Dr. Taylor said that he will pass the requests along to the task force that is formulating the district's plan for the fall. The district has until the first week of August to release the final plan for how the new school year is going to work.


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