We write to express our deep concern and disappointment regarding the disrespectful behavior exhibited during the recent Board of Education meeting. We are equally concerned with the BOE taking advantage of its current majority to hold a Friday night meeting, days before the BOE election, at a time when many in the community were unable to participate. As trustees of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, an organization committed to fostering inclusivity and combating racism, we believe it is essential to address such incidents head-on and work to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all community members.
We are concerned that the removal of the Superintendent will have an adverse effect on the financial position of the district. And that the manner of his removal (along with our community’s history of Superintendent turnover) will negatively impact the ability of the district to hire a quality Superintendent. By quality Superintendent, we mean one who is committed to an anti-racist pedagogical approach to education that builds sustained commitment from educators, administrators, and the wider community, to create an educational environment that is truly equitable and inclusive.
Given the disrespectful behavior at the meeting exhibited by some Board members, some of the members of SOMEA, and members of the community; given the concerns expressed by Dr. Taylor and Board Members Dr. Qawi Telesford and Courtney Winkfield about biased and racist treatment of Black men; and given the mid-year removal of the Superintendent, we consider the statement from BOE President Wittleder that, “The promise of a school District that serves every student has never been brighter” to be disingenuous. We, along with many members of the community as well as former students who watched this meeting, are left questioning why Dr. Taylor was forced out at this point given that his contract was up in June.
While we look forward to working with Acting Superintendent Dr. Gilbert and are encouraged by his letter to the community that he intends to be student focused, to rebuild trust, and to carry on the equity work, his words do not exonerate the BOE, SOMEA, and community members from their unsettling behavior at the meeting. That event has underscored the urgent need for a renewed commitment to modeling a culture of inclusivity and respect within our school district, starting with the BOE as the elected community representatives. We urge the Board to take appropriate action to address disrespectful behavior, to disavow biased comments, and to take steps to prevent the recurrence of such behavior in the future.
Through the Community Coalition on Race’s collaborative work and intentional community partnerships over 26 years, the towns and the school district of South Orange and Maplewood have committed to and benefitted from our mission of racial equity and integration. We are at an inflection point on our path to providing an equitable and excellent education for all students. As such, we call on the school district and our elected officials to be positive models for the children we hope to raise as anti-racist, accepting, inclusive human beings, and to provide an education in which students can grow in their understanding of racism in our country, and develop cross-racial relationships within a diverse, equitable, and integrated school community.