WAYNE, NJ – Compared to the past few Board of Education meetings, the two-hour BOE public meeting on Thursday night was fairly calm with not an inordinate number of residents calling in. However, some comments made by parents “frustrated” BOE President Cathy Kazan, who, along with Trustee Suzanne Pudup, defended the Board’s reopening plan, as well as how they have handled the complexities of governing a school district during a pandemic.
The meeting began with a presentation of the recipients of the Governor’s Educators of the Year awards. An Educator and a Specialist from each of Wayne’s fourteen schools received the recognition with the principal of each school providing a video tribute to the winners. For these professionals it was a big night.
After the presentation and not long into the business of the meeting, the first comment of the first public portion came from Roger Donald who took the impetus of the awards to recognize Wayne’s parents as teachers of the year.
“Wayne parents have extended themselves to meet the educational needs that might not have otherwise been met,” he said, referring to the extra time that Wayne parents have had to spend supporting their children’s education while the schools were forced into an unfamiliar model. “The performance of the Wayne Township parents reflects great credit upon themselves and the children they educate.”
Donald also used his comments to hurl barbs at the school leadership, saying that he considered their decisions over the school year as “dereliction and irresponsibility of the Wayne Township school system.”
Resident Cindy Jaffe had asked about comparing class sizes in other districts that are opening schools, rather than just comparing the sizes of districts. A valid point, but her next line of questions seemed to be what frustrated Kazan.
“What are we doing about other teachers that, maybe say that they are exposed to COVID?” Jaffe asked. “What kind of protocols are in place to follow up on that, and just have their reentry back to school in the quickest and safest way possible?”
Kazan, who had the last word of the meeting addressed these comments.
“I personally have looked at what other school districts are doing, and I think Wayne has done an excellent job,” she said. “We've done everything we can when [the schools went all virtual] it was because we, quite frankly, just couldn't staff our buildings, and it's not because teachers were taking unneeded time off.”
Kazan’s tone changed. “That’s a ridiculous notion,” she said with a frown and a shake of her head. “I'm sorry, I'm frustrated. You get to criticize but some of the criticism is just it's off base.”
In responding to a resident’s comments about the district being reactive instead of proactive, Pudup responded, saying, “It's hard to really be proactive when you're dealing with a pandemic the likes of which we have been seen before.”
“A lot of what we do, is dependent on the community,” Pudup added. “If you decide to hold Halloween parties; if you decide to not socially distance yourself; if your social life is more important than your child’s educational life; well, that impacts the entire school district, it impacts every child in our care.”
Lastly, Pudup said, “The community has to take responsibility so that we can be more proactive. So please follow the guidelines. And just be aware of the fact that our district is dependent on you. Our success is dependent on you.”
“We're trying our best,” added Kazan. “The administration is trying their best to bring our students back to as closest to normal as we possibly can, and we will continue to do so. All we can ask you for is your patience. And with 7,500 students, I dare say the majority of parents are being patient; but not everyone.”
“And I'm sorry that you have reached that level of frustration, but it's not our fault,” Kazan added. “We're not causing the problem.”