Commissioner Calls Policy Meant to Protect Students Into Question
The Clifton Board of Education met for its regularly scheduled meeting on November 16, 2023, at 7 pm. In attendance were all board members except Commissioner Feras Awwad.
The meeting began with public recognition. Clifton resident Donna Popowich approached the podium to speak about something that occurred at a different meeting. At the last meeting, an individual was interrupted by the board attorney when he directly asked questions to Commissioner Fahim Abedrabbo. These questions were regarding Abedrabbo’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict overseas.
The board attorney interrupted the speaker at that meeting and claimed there was an issue with the topic being discussed by the speaker and the manner in which he did it. Popowich condemned the board for what she called a violation of the First Amendment. She advised that this type of violation could be brought to authorities like the prosecutor's and attorney general's offices. Board president Smith later said during his comments that, “No one has been denied the ability to speak.”
The meeting was full of district-wide recognition. Students of the month attending Clifton High School received certificates of achievement, along with teachers and administrators. Sitting in the audience were district employees cheering on their colleagues who received awards. Students of the month included Freshman Milena Jimenez, Sophomore Steven Pena, Junior Seth Porcelli, and Senior Sonia Lazaridis.
The board proceeded with giving committee reports. Click HERE to view the portion of the meeting where reports were given. Committee chairs reported on facilities, policy, finance, education/special education, and booster club committees. Discussed thoroughly was the ongoing teacher vacancy issue. The district administration is utilizing all possible methods to solve this problem from university partnerships to modifying classrooms, offering staff extra teaching periods, offering substitutes, and on a limited basis using proximity learning, the district is attempting to handle the nationwide issue to the best of its ability. Proximity learning involves certified teachers from outside the district instructing remotely via a smart board or Chromebook. Eight classes are being taught this way at CHS due to teacher vacancies. The district has had “growing pains” with this type of instruction.
Click HERE to access job openings at Clifton Public Schools.
During the unfinished business portion of the meeting, Commissioner Mark Brunciak requested the floor. Commissioner Brunciak raised inquiries regarding policy 5756 - Transgender Students. He recounted a story of how a parent in another district discovered only through receiving a failed test of their student, that the student's name and gender identity had changed. The parents were unaware and due to this policy, the district did not have to alert them. The policy does not forbid teachers from sharing this information; it protects them from being obligated to do so if the student is uncomfortable. It states, "There is no affirmative duty for any school district staff member to notify a student’s parent of the student’s gender identity or expression." Brunciak urged people to read Policy 5756. He said, “This policy has created an environment of acceptable government secrecy masquerading as concern for children others are responsible for.”
Brunciak went on to explain what he saw as the problem with this policy, making the point that it’s the parent's right to know if their child changes their name or identity. Brunciak motioned for a public session so that the public could weigh in on this topic specifically. Commissioner Fahim Abedrabbo recommended it take place in the future so that it could be advertised in a better fashion. After discussion and amendments to the motion, it became clear that multiple commissioners had one issue or another with the policy. Commissioner Judith Bassford indicated that she’d like to see the policy revoked until further guidance and information is received. The board attorney advised that even if the BOE chose to abolish Policy 5756, it would not “alleviate this district’s responsibility to comply with and enforce the rules and regulations as promulgated by the State of New Jersey.”
The board voted in favor of having a special meeting dedicated to discussing this policy. The public will be encouraged to come and will be allotted time to speak during public recognition. A date should be announced soon.
Abedrabbo read into the record a resolution on National Native American Heritage Month:
WHEREAS, during National Native American Heritage Month we celebrate the rich tapestry of Indigenous peoples and honor their sacrifices, and
WHEREAS, Native Americans have enriched our heritage and continue to add to all aspects of our society through their generosity of culture and the continued practice of teaching economic, environmental, and cultural sustainability; and
WHEREAS, our state and country is blessed by the character and strength exemplified by the Native Americans who have answered the call of service in our armed forces in greater numbers per capita than any other group in the United States. We honor our Native American veterans and those who are serving in active duty for their bravery and sacrifice; and
WHEREAS, during the month of November, we honor our native peoples and recognize their continued contributions in strengthening the diversity of our society.
NOW, THEREFORE, We, the Clifton Board of Education, do hereby proclaim November 2023 as Native American Heritage Month and encourages the district to observe the month with appropriate events and activities.
The next board of education meeting will be on December 7, 2023 at 7:00 PM. The meeting will take place at the Board of Education building at 745 Clifton Avenue.