A Robot, Super Seniors, Gold Level Musicians, and Dress Code Complaints at BOE Meeting
Thursday night’s Board of Education was hosted in the Clifton High School Media Room due to issues at 745 Clifton Avenue. The meeting started with student representative Tiffany inviting all incoming freshmen to the May 30th Open House at CHS at 6 pm. Clubs, activities, and course opportunities will be represented for students who will be entering high school in the fall and their families. “See what Clifton High School has to offer,” she said.
Supervised by Monique Dewar-Dituri, Chemistry, Engineering & Robotics Instructor at CHS, the Robotics Team at CHS won big this year, taking first place in three separate events. Their wins included four engineering awards and their mechanical creation made a special appearance, showing off some of its amazing skills.
The robot was built to move forward backward and sideways in either direction, seemingly gliding across the floor. Its movements were quick and smooth, reminiscent of a living creature’s. The robot performed several tasks with almost eerie agility, speeding effortlessly across the floor to pick up, move, and place a variety of objects.
Dituri had asked the Board of Education for additional funding last year, which the Board provided. Dr. Robertozzi announced at the meeting that next year would see even more funding for this outstanding winning team.
Students of the Month for May included four seniors who are preparing to graduate and move on to college and career aspirations.
Senior - Mia Gaunt
Mia is ambitious, hardworking, and friendly. Her most influential teacher is Ms. Barrows because she is kind, patient, relatable, and understanding. Mia’s time as a dancer has been an important part of her life because she dedicates a great deal of her time and energy to dance. Dance allows Mia to be creative, try new things, test out new moves with all different types of dancers, and let her visions come to life. Mia’s grandfather, Manual Garcia Beltre, has inspired her the most during her life. Mia is also a member of the National Honor Society, a dedicated member of the Clifton High School Cheerleading Team, Heroes and Cool Kids club, and serves as our Corresponding Secretary for our Student Council. Mia’s current career aspirations are to either become a lawyer or a psychiatrist and she plans to attend Rutgers.
Senior - Albaraa Gebril
Albaraa is intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful, funny, and innovative. He has a number of honors, accolades, and public acknowledgment, but he what makes him stand out is his excitement for life, his passion for making a difference in the world, and his ability to work well with all students and staff. Albaraa’s biggest inspiration has been the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad who has inspired him to push himself to his highest potential. Albaraa’s most influential teacher has been Mr. Henry because taking his class instilled a work ethic he needed to be successful in high school and helped him enhance his critical thinking skills. Additionally, Albaraa credits Mrs. Turk for instilling a passion for service, compassion, and being a mother figure to him. After graduation, Albaraa is attending Columbia University as a Kulge Scholar - only bestowed to 50 applicants and as a Gates Scholar - with a 1% acceptance rate.
Senior - Tiffany Guerrero
Tiffany is a hardworking student who is extremely involved in the CHS community. Tiffany is a member of the student council and serves as the football manager. Tiffany is inspired by her tutor, Jennifer Rivera, who has helped her throughout her time at CHS and has always provided great advice. The teachers that have inspired Tiffany the most are Ms. Huster and Mr. McCunney because CAST inspires her to create new videos and new ideas. Tiffany enjoys the freedom to create and her teachers encourage her to follow her new ideas. Tiffany plans to major in Sports Marketing when she graduates from CHS.
Senior - Kaylee Miller
Kaylee is a curious and dedicated student whose critical thinking skills make her an outstanding student. The teacher that has inspired her the most is Mr. Rogers because his class discussions were interesting, and thought-provoking, and Mr. Rogers always made sure to listen to all of his students' thoughts and engage them in meaningful conversations. Kaylee’s biggest influence has been her father, who she knows will continue to inspire her. Kaylee is a member of our basketball team, lacrosse team, flag football team, Athletic Training Club, National Honors Society, and National English Honor Society. In the fall, Kaylee is attending Rowan University where she plans to major in Biology and continue to play lacrosse. Long-term, Kaylee wants to become a veterinarian and has accepted a spot in the Scheiber School of Veterinary Medicine at Rowan.
Music instructors from CCMS and CHS spoke about their highest-achieving music ensemble students in band, orchestra, and chorus from CCMS, WWMS, and CHS who earned the Gold Level Award in their respective groups:
Brangel Neris, Trumpet - NJAJE Region 1 Junior Jazz Band
Kaitlynn Garas, Bass - NJSMA Region 1 Intermediate Orchestra
Mina Alborzi, Bass - NJSMA Region 1 Intermediate Orchestra
Kaitlynn Garas, Bass - NJMEA All-State Intermediate Orchestra
Emma Bryce, Soprano 1 - NJSMA Region 1 Treble Chorus
Melissa Garth, Soprano 1 - NJSMA Region 1 Treble Chorus
Syndey Lalla, Soprano 2 - NJSMA Region 1 Treble Chorus
Sandy Cocoyutla, Alto 1 - NJSMA Treble Chorus
Mary Nakrosis, Alto 2 - NJSMA Treble Chorus
Paris Frederick, Tenor 1 - NJSMA Mixed Chorus
Lillyann Martins, Soprano 1 - NJSMA Mixed Chorus
Negin Saidian, Soprano 1 - NJSMA Mixed Chorus
Several students from Christopher Columbus Middle School (CCMS) bravely approached the podium and addressed the Board. The girls all spoke about the dress code and the perceived gender discrimination it supports by disproportionately targeting girls.
One student said that on a very hot day on May 11, “about 65 girls were dress-coded” for wearing biker shorts. She said that Administration claimed that they were compression shorts, which are not allowed as outerwear but she contended that these are more rightly classified as athletic wear. The fabric, she said, is breathable and therefore more comfortable in hot weather. They are also some of the easiest shorts to find, popular in most stores and readily available. This same student said that girls whose bodies develop earlier tend to be dress-coded for articles of clothing that other girls are not penalized for, leading some girls to feel self-conscious and shamed for having curves.
A seventh grader from CCMS also spoke about the dress code, saying that “barely any guys get dress coded.” “Why can’t I wear a tank top but they can?” she asked. She said it’s hard to get anything else for the summer, other than the things kids get coded for. Gender differences in the dress code are unfair, she said.
A sixth grader at CCMS said that the dress code needed to be updated to reflect the current trends and social standards.
Former BOE commissioner Joe Canova spoke about the dress code, too. He talked about lost classroom time as students are forced out of their classes to wait for parents to bring a change of clothes or be forced to wear whatever extra clothes the school has laying around. He rolled up the sleeves of his tee shirt and asked if baring his shoulders would disrupt the environment to the point where he could not be understood and reminded the Board that this is the yardstick by which student dress should be measured. In the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines case of 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that “...neither students nor teachers ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’ The Court took the position that school officials could not prohibit only on the suspicion that the speech might disrupt the learning environment.” Canova urged the Board, “Don’t be a follower; be a leader.”
Canova’s daughter, who is a sixth grader at CCMS, came to the podium in a tee shirt and white cuffed shorts. She said that she was wearing this exact same outfit the day she was dress coded and sent to the auditorium. She lost two periods of her day sitting in the auditorium waiting for a change of clothes from a parent and implored the Board to make some changes.
Two adults, including a former Clifton teacher, also addressed the issue of the dress code. “If you don’t like the way my body looks in my shorts, that’s your problem,” said Samantha Bassford as she spoke of the psychological effects of forcing girls to be hyper-focused on their bodies and how they look in different kinds of clothes. Donna Popwich said that she taught in a school with no dress code and “Guess what? Everyone learned.” “Who cares how short the shorts are?” she asked. She said that the Board is sexualizing young girls with this dress code, which bans bare shoulders and shorts shorter than two inches above the knee.
Commissioner Fahim Abedrabbo said that he asked to look at the dress code policy last year in 2022. He agreed that it needs changes but said that his fellow commissioners last year disagreed.
Linda White, a lifelong Clifton resident and a part-time paraprofessional with more than 25 years in the district, spoke about how emotional it was to watch the Board of Education commit to making ten paraprofessionals full-time. She said that she hoped that in the coming years, more of them would be made full-time so that they could most effectively help their students.
Lori Lalama, CEA President, addressed the unscheduled lockdown at CCMS and how terrifying it was, hearing the police sirens approach as her students huddled in silence. They could hear a commotion in the hallway and police had guns drawn in the classroom next door. It was a traumatizing experience for the teachers and students, she said, as she gently chastised the Board for not doing more to reassure the community following the scary disruption.
A CHS student who had not planned to speak got up to talk about the same incident. She said that her sister texted her from CCMS when they were on lockdown with videos of students crying hysterically. The family later got a message saying that it was a system malfunction but in school, police were going from class to class with guns drawn. The teen was visibly shaken, recalling that day and how scary it was for her sister and her whole family.
“It fills my heart,” Dr. Danny Robertozzi said, to see so many students come out to speak. “You’ve been heard,” he said. He explained that just days after the May 11 dress code incident, the Policy Committee gathered to discuss the students’ concerns. The committee has decided to continue meeting and talking to more students, staff, administrators, and parents and to consider making revisions to the dress code policy. “You’ve sparked something,” he said, “and I commend you for being here tonight.” He also said that he’s been able to give Adminstration some leeway in terms of how dress code infractions are enforced and encouraged the students to always speak up on their own behalf.
Switching gears, Robertozzi said that tonight was like a reality show for everything that’s right about the Clifton School District. He talked about how many amazing things there are happening in the district.
During Committee reports, Commissioner Judy Bassford reported on the special meeting of the Policy Committee, referenced earlier by Dr. Robertozzi. She said that several students from CCMS were included in this meeting. The committee tasked representatives from each middle school and the high school to go through the dress code line by line over the summer and to return to Policy with their recommendations for changes. She also said that Robertozzi agreed to direct school administrators to adopt a more lenient approach to enforcing the dress code when violations were related to dressing for very warm weather.
President Jim Smith’s Report
Smith reminded the community to check the Peachjar flyers on the district website for events, activities, and job opportunities. Saturday is the Mustang Marching Band’s final car wash of the season at CHS. The Clifton Recreation Department is hiring counselors for their summer camp programs. Students who want to work this summer should see the flyer on Peachjar on the district website. On June 4, School 15 is celebrating its Centennial from 10 am - 2 pm. Come out and celebrate with them!
He announced that one of the district’s staff has received an award. When virtual meetings first started, one of CHS’s staff members looked to find a way to broadcast district events, specifically sporting events, to the community. Because of his efforts to live stream so much of what goes on in the school district, History teacher Mark Mecca has won the Broadcast Teacher of the Year award.
Fahim Abedrabbo read a resolution for Jewish American Heritage Month:
WHEREAS, May is Jewish American Heritage Month, established by the United States Congress to recognize a more than 360-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture; and
WHEREAS, Jewish Americans, in the face of unspeakable discrimination and adversity, have fought tirelessly to realize the promise of the nation's freedom, and continue to teach us empathy and compassion, inspired by their parents and grandparents; and
WHEREAS, Jewish Americans have helped bring about enduring progress in every aspect of society, shaping our country's character and embodying the values we hold dear; and
WHEREAS, Jewish communities continue to confront hostility and bigotry; and
WHEREAS, determined to confront racism, many Jewish Americans found a cause in the Civil Rights Movement in a call for freedom and justice; and
WHEREAS, we recognize the history of Jewish contributions to American culture which acknowledges the achievements of American Jews in the fields ranging from sports and arts and entertainment to medicine, business, science, government, and military service.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Clifton School District Board of Education affirms May as Jewish American Heritage Month.
Anthony Santiago read a resolution for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month:
WHEREAS, the people of the United States join together each May to pay tribute to the contributions of generations of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have enriched the history of this nation; and
WHEREAS, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is an inherently diverse population composed of more than 45 distinct ethnicities and more than 100 language dialects; and
WHEREAS, it is imperative for the good of our nation that schools continue to build awareness and understanding of the contributions made by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and
WHEREAS, celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month provide the students and school community an opportunity to recognize the achievements, contributions, and history of, and to understand the challenges faced by, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and
WHEREAS, the School Board of the City of Clifton, through its core values and implementation of culturally responsive practices demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion within our school division.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That the School Board of the City of Clifton officially recognizes the month of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the School Board of Clifton encourages all citizens to support and participate in various school activities during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Abedrabbo requested a discussion with the Municipal Alliance to address reckless driving near some of the schools, specifically CELA A and B. He asked that the city be brought into the conversation to address the issue. Dr. Robertozzi said that the Clifton Police Department did conduct a traffic study and followed up with a report. A long conversation followed, during which commissioners discussed the need for better education for the parents and better/more consistent enforcement by police. President Smith said that the Board would host a meeting to discuss potential action and would invite city officials, law enforcement, and the county sheriff’s office to participate.
The next meeting is June 22nd and all of the Teachers of the Year will be honored. The community will be updated on the location for this meeting once we’re closer to the date.