Westfield Parents Share Concerns About Racism and Bullying with Board of Education

Lydia Kaplan and Pamela Brooks, who co-moderate the Facebook group "Westfield Solidarity for Safety," express concerns to the board of education. Credits: Michael Bruchert

WESTFIELD, NJ – As part of New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, the Westfield Board of Education presented its 2015-16 school self-assessment at the most recent meeting on Tuesday.

In reviewing the district grade, Superintendent Margaret Dolan stressed the efforts of each school’s anti-bullying team. The designated teams ensure bullying investigations are conducted properly and provide students with appropriate resources, according to Dolan.

“That team has to review a number of different requirements of the law,” Dolan said. “There are many things that each committee and each team has to review.”

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The grades for 10 schools in Westfield remained above 70 (out of a possible 78) with some year-over-year fluctuations. Overall, the district improved from a 73 point average to 74 in 2016.

Board members also invited parents to speak at the meeting, hearing from two Westfield women who co-moderate a Facebook group, “Westfield Solidarity for Safety.”

Lydia Kaplan and Pamela Brooks, two products of Westfield education who have put their children through the same district, shared concerns with the current political climate and resulting translation through students.

“There are children in the school system who feel very isolated and still feel isolated and even feel more isolated in this type of climate because they feel different,” Brooks said, citing an example of her daughter feeling burdened during racial discussions in class.

Additional concerns shared with the board included anecdotes of verbal abuse targeting religious groups and frustration of high school students who were not given a choice when shown the presidential inauguration during school.

Dolan and the board’s president, Gretchan Ohlig, took the claims into consideration, promising that the board and district as a whole are working toward providing a safe space for children.

“We participate frequently in lots of conversations within the district about diversity and making sure those students who are different, for whatever reason, feel included,” Ohlig, said. “We’re in a really unique spot right now in terms of we’re in the process of interviewing to determine who the next Westfield High School principal will be, so your timing is great in terms of talking about students feeling like that is something that they can approach.”

Board members shared sentiments with Kaplan and Brooks, saying there is frustration on the administration’s end when trying to remain vigilant and fighting the battle for tolerance.

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