Superintendent Robertozzi Says the Decision to Reopen Was His Alone


The Board of Education’s annual Reorganization meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the swearing in of the newly elected board commissioners, incumbents Judy Bassford and Dr. Lucy Danny and newcomer Alan Paris.

Jim Smith was elected to another term as Board President by a close margin of 5-4 against Joe Canova, who was nominated by Judy Bassford.

Fahim Abedrabbo nominated Jim Daley for the position of Vice President and Judy Bassford nominated Dana Beltran. Mr. Daley was nominated with six of the nine votes. These positions expire after one year when another reorganization meeting will be held.

President Jim Smith read the School Board Code of Ethics, reminding all board commissioners what their duties are and what they aren’t. They include an oath not to surrender personal judgement to political parties or special interest groups.

Dr. Robertozzi offered congratulations to the newly sworn in commissioners and to Mr. Smith and Mr. Daly. He then spoke at some length about the current situation.

The decision to reopen was not made by the Board of Education, he said. The Board can only take action after meeting to discuss an issue and then voting on it. This decision was made wholly by Dr. Robertozzi since the board had not met since the December 9th meeting and ethically they are not permitted to discuss board business outside of an organized meeting. Dr. Robertozzi was clear that if parents were upset about that call, it was he alone who was responsible.

The superintendent thanked our teachers for showing up and allowing schools to stay open. More than ever he knows that this is a hard job. He emphasized that he strongly believes that children need to be in school and appreciates that teachers keep showing up, even though some felt that schools should be closed for a few weeks to allow for Covid numbers to settle down again. There has been some, but not a lot, of in-school virus transmission. Most transmission is coming from other places but is not being traced to multiple people inside our buildings. He stressed that, although he has a philosophical issue with shutting down schools, there is undeniably another issue at play if there aren’t enough staff members to keep a particular school open. This is what happened at School 13 for several days because so many teachers were either sick or quarantined that they simply could not fully staff the building. The superintendent stressed, “I’m going to do everything I can to keep schools open.”

If you are interested in becoming a substitute teacher, the district is temporarily paying $240 a day for people with county substitute certification and $250 for those with NJDOE teaching certification. See this link for the online application.

Addressing the many emails he received from parents who wished for a remote option like the one we had last year, Dr. Robertozzi explained that the NJDOE (New Jersey Department of Education) is not allowing districts to offer a virtual option except in very specific instances. The temporary Home Instruction option with asynchronous learning was offered as a way to give something to parents who were not comfortable sending their children back to school yet but who did not qualify for remote instruction under the current state regulations.

Janina Kusielewicz, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, spoke about how difficult and individualized the regulations for quarantining are. The specific guidelines from the CDC keep changing which is confusing and difficult to manage and the district is working to address every individual case as they arise. Until our new HVAC systems are in place classroom windows need to be cracked open to allow for air flow. The plastic shields on desks are thought to have protected students from needing to quarantine by creating a physical barrier between children. These measures are allowing our schools to remain open while also limiting spread within our buildings.

During Public Recognition, where members of the community are allowed five minutes to speak on matters pertaining to the running of the district, several people came to the podium. Lori Lalama, the president of the Clifton Educators’ Association, addressed several concerns from staff including the need for more fulltime custodians. She said that the custodians do a great job but simply don't have time to do all of the routine work they need to do and also do the extra Covid-related cleaning, especially when some are out due to illness or quarantining. She also reminded parents that the function of schools is to educate, not to babysit, and that sick children must be kept home.

LoriAnn DeSimone, a Clifton mom with two young children in the early childhood education center, asked for written documentation on the quarantine guidelines for children who've had household contact. She has a young preschooler with significant special needs who has been excluded from school until January 18th
due to a policy that she has not been able to find in writing. Her son, she said, needs to be in school and receiving services.

Two community members thanked Dr. Robertozzi for his decision to reopen schools and three spoke primarily to address their issues with two of the commissioners – Fahim Abedrabbo and Feras Awwad – whom they accused of unethical or disrespectful behavior.

The Board Commissioners did not offer their own comments at this meeting and after approving a few items without discussion, the meeting was adjourned.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will be held on Thursday, January 21, at 7:00 pm.

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