At Clifton BOE Meeting Some Speakers Still Upset; Superintendent Calls Out Misinformation

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Highlights only:

Some people are upset about the updated Health and Physical Education Standards. You can learn more here.

Dr. Robertozzi asked the community to please make sure that they have accurate information before coming to the podium and spreading misinformation.

There will be more parent information sessions in September and parents can opt out of certain sensitive topics for their children if they choose.

Our district won an award for excellent finance reporting.

The PBSIS program worked well in several of our summer programs.

Referendum items are moving along.

One proposed policy change was sent back to committee for further revision. Two others were voted down and will not advance to a second reading.

Commissioner Abedrabbo’s ethics charge case is over.

CASA invites the community to a candlelight vigil for overdose awareness on August 31st at 8 pm in front of City Hall.

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After the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief moment of silence, the July 28th meeting of the Board of Education continued with Public Recognition. This is the part of the meeting set aside for the public - parents, students, other members of the community - to bring forth concerns or comments on matters pertaining to our school district.

As has been the case for the past several months, this portion of the meeting featured a strong presence by a group of people who oppose the updates to New Jersey’s Heath and Physical Education Standards. Thirteen people, including two clergy, spoke out against the standards which every New Jersey public school district must adopt. Most of the speakers referenced things that either are not in the standards or are significant misrepresentations of what the standards call for. One held up a book that she likened to pornography but it isn’t one that our district uses, as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Janina Kusielewicz pointed out.

Each of our Board of Education commissioners takes an oath when they are sworn in. That oath includes a promise to uphold our state Constitution and to serve the governments of the United States and New Jersey faithfully and impartially. Our BOE is bound by the State Board of Education to address the learning standards developed there. Whether or not they personally approve of these standards, our commissioners cannot change them and they run the risk of harming our district’s standing if they refuse to address them. The learning standards are under the control of the State Board of Education, not the Clifton Board of Education.

What our local Board of Education can and does control, as both Superintendent Robertozzi and Ms. Kusielewicz have pointed out repeatedly, is the curriculum we use. The curriculum is the set of lessons, books, handouts, and other materials that our teachers will actually use. The standards represent the learning goals - what students should be learning. The curriculum is how we get there. Any claims about what teachers are using to address the standards are likely inaccurate as the curriculum is still being developed. Materials being shared online are not from Clifton.

This Fact Sheet has some helpful information, including a reminder that parents who object to specific lessons can - and always have been able to - opt their children out of those lessons.

Superintendent’s comments: Dr. Robertozzi began his comments by thanking everyone for showing up. “If you have a concern, this is where you should be.”

He went on to explain that a lot of things said at the podium were not true and were not accurate representations of what will be happening in our Health classrooms. He reminded everyone that most of the learning standards are not new at all; they’ve been around for ten years or longer. Kindergartners are not learning about sex; they’re learning about feelings, healthy foods, self care, and hygiene. Many of the things speakers brought up have been addressed in the three parent information nights the district co-hosted with Rutgers. If you missed them, you can find them on the district’s YouTube channel and on the district web site. Click here to see one. Dr. Robertozzi encouraged everyone to make sure that they have accurate information from reliable sources if they want to know what’s happening in our school district. There will be three additional parent information sessions in September so interested parties should be on the look-out for those.

Ms. Kusielewicz stressed again that our teachers are professionals and reminded everyone that they are getting training to appropriately address the revised standards. She confirmed that we don’t have the book that one woman held up and that we are not teaching explicit sexual information in elementary school. “Abstinence first” is a NJ state mandate and is always part of the discussion when classes are learning about pregnancy and disease prevention.

Clifton wins an award: Dr. Robertozzi proudly announced that Clifton again received ASBO’s (Association of School Business Officials International) award for our excellent finance reporting. This is the second year in a row that we have received this significant honor.

Referendum updates: The asbestos removal at Clifton High School is set to finish on August 19th. Trailers were delivered to prepare for construction site operations. The district pulled the stadium and athletic field projects to bid on them separately and those bids open on August 3rd. As per law, the lowest qualified bidder will be approved and awarded the contract. Work is anticipated to start at the end of August. The WWMS field will be ready by next spring though the field house might not be. Weight room construction at the stadium will take place in the fall.

PBSIS in Summer Programs: PBSIS (Positive Behavior Support in Schools) Coordinator Paula Raygoza thanked the coordinators for our Jumpstart, Title 1, and Title 3 summer programs for recognizing that PBSIS is good practice and for carrying it into these programs. She said that with these supports in place, attendance increases and kids say that they like coming and feel cared for. It makes a positive difference.

The coordinators for these programs who took the PBSIS framework and used positive praise with their students are: Joanna Juarbe, Megan Fitzpatrick, Frances Rodriguez, Kimberly Fucetola, and Yahaira Caraballo.

First Reading of Policy: three policies were on the agenda for a first reading:

  • 0155.1 - Board Member Participation at Board Meetings, Public and Executive Sessions Using Electronic Device
  • 0169-01 - Electronic Communication Among Board Members (Use of District Issued Paperless Equipment)
  • 0174 - Legal Services

Commissioner Joe Canova questioned the language in 0174 which specifies that a commissioner must ask the board president before speaking to the board attorney. He questioned if the president can then say no or is the language just a formality?

“Yes,” said the board attorney. The intention, she explained, is to maintain a low cost of legal services by ensuring that there isn’t free reign to use attorney services and run up the district’s bill. Sometimes the proposed question does not need to go through the attorney but can be directed to a more appropriate person, which also saves the district money.

Canova’s concern is that one person would have the power to say no and if there is discord among the board, the president could theoretically withhold permission from specific board commissioners. He proposed sending it back to Policy. Commissioner Judy Bassford agreed with him, saying, “Leave the policy the way it was.”

Policy Chair Fahim Abedrabbo responded, “There needs to be order.” His position was that setting it up this way ensures that there are clear processes in place for future boards to be able to move forward with order and with clear bookkeeping.

After some back and forth among the commissioners, Commissioner Jim Daley suggested that the language be tweaked to “board member will advise the president” so that it isn’t about seeking permission but there is still a mechanism for tracking the requests and keeping a record. Following roll call, Policy 0174 was sent back to the Policy Committee for revision.

After some discussion about the many ways some of the commissioners rely on their cell phones, policies 0155.1 and 0169-01 were voted down and will not move forward for a second reading.

Committee reports:

Residency and Security - Committee Chair Alan Paris reported that residency investigations continue and said that new school registrations are all investigated. Security drills were successful and done properly. Six candidates have been offered jobs as school safety specialists and will receive training before school starts.

Policy - Committee Chair Abedrabbo reported that they reviewed the dress codes for middle and high school and determined that the current policy is “sufficient, fair, and adequate.”

Food Service and Transportation - Committee Chair Dana Beltran reported that the School 13 kitchen is being upgraded with surplus money in a cafeteria expenses account that must be spent on food related stuff. Halal and vegan options are being added but the committee found that halal meat is too expensive to add to the menu. Comm. Beltran encouraged every family to fill out the form for free/reduced lunch because more participation, even if you’re not eligible, helps the district get more federal money for this.

Comm. Canova suggested that we continue offering free lunches to address the needs of the community and Comm. Abedrabbo followed by asking Dr. Robertozzi to write a letter to legislators asking for their support. Canova made a motion to draft a resolution asking for free lunches for every child which was quickly seconded by Abedrabbo and supported easily by all board members in a roll call.

Commissioners’ Comments: Several commissioners declined to offer comments and several others simply thanked the public for coming out.

Comm. Abedrabbo spoke very briefly about his actions at the start of last year’s Project Graduation and said that if he could go back to that moment he would have responded differently. He said that the ethics charges filed against him resulted in him being found at fault but with no need to remove him from his duties as a commissioner so “this is over.”

Comm. Bassford issued an invitation to the community on behalf of CASA (Clifton Against Substance Abuse): the second annual Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil will be held on August 31 at 8 pm at City Hall. Contact Dorothy Adlon for more details: 973.715.8642.

After a short executive session the meeting was adjourned.

The next Board of Education meeting is on Thursday, August 25th at 7:00 pm.



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