WESTFIELD, NJ – Two highly controversial issues were the focus of the Westfield Board of Education meeting last night: the implementation of the updated policy regarding Harassment, Intimidation and, Bullying as well as the upcoming enrollment increases and teacher reductions at Jefferson and Tamaques Elementary schools.
Westfield Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan stated, "All districts must have an updated policy in place by the beginning of the fall term, September 1st of this year. We will have the policy in place that will be simple to understand and accessible to all staff and students as well as parents.” The board will meet over the summer to discuss the policy and to hear parents’ concerns before the policy is put into place for the upcoming academic year. Board President Julia Walker stated that, "In October, the district will have an entire week devoted to the new policy at each school so everyone will be able to understand and learn about this policy."
The current law change as signed by Gov. Christie this past January was in response to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, at the time of his death. Public school staff will be trained in crisis management, suicide prevention and dealing with the effects of bullying, harassment and intimidation. Dr. Dolan stated in her remarks to questions that, “we as board have been through training in the new law and we plan to implement a policy that fits the standards of the Westfield community and is appropriate for our district.”
Nearly every state has a law in place for handling of student harassment and bullying. The laws came about after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold, carried out the attack and murder of thirteen people, which was considered a revenge attack for being bullied and harassed.
The increase in student enrollment at Jefferson and Tamaques Elementary schools was the subject of much parent input. About six parents gave their comments before the board in protest to the reduction of teachers and teacher aides in first and second grades.
However, the strongest point of the night came from Tamaques parent Maria Binetti. Her comments were a result of frustration over the mainstreaming of special needs children during lunch and recess periods. “They are put in a room with one teacher and perhaps no aid, with twenty or even up to twenty-five kids in a room where they are falling all over each other and when you add three additional students during those times, it’s up to twenty-eight kids. It’s not fair to the teachers and it’s not fair to the kids. The special needs students have an aid for them in their regular classroom, one aid for every two students, the teacher with a room of twelve kids and they learn when their environment is not overcrowded," Binetti said.
Binetti's remarks at the meeting were focused on the cost of educating New Jersey students. “In New Jersey, there is always money for everything else but when it comes to our schools and educating our kids, there isn’t any. It’s always about the money," she said.
Currently, Gov. Christie is in a heated and protracted battle with the teachers' union in New Jersey which seems to be the impetus behind cutting education funding in the Garden State. In town meetings over the last several months, Christie has stated he wants to pay good teachers more and poor teachers less and to implement comprehensive education reform.
In recent days, Christie has been all over the airwaves, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fox News’ Fox and Friends and Imus in the Morning, discussing his leadership style and agenda for the state. Christie has also been putting off answering questions about his next role in Republican politics, be it a second term, or a possible presidential campaign in 2016.
The next meeting of the Westfield Board of Education will be posted on the district web site.