Things Heat Up at Board of Education Meeting

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Just the facts, Ma’am

School Four’s principal, Tracy Morigi, was recognized for her outstanding efforts with the district’s PBSIS initiative. CHS Students of the Month were also honored. Dr. Robertozzi reiterated that unless the state gives districts the power to do so, he cannot allow for a fully remote option unless safety concerns warrant it for a particular building. All students (except for those quarantined) are due back in school on Monday.

The board voted to move forward with a contract with Epic Management, Inc. to oversee the huge referendum project. Phase one of the security upgrades has already been completed. A water line under the field at WWMS may need to be moved.

Our HIB (Harassment/Intimidation/Bullying) numbers now look similar to the ones we were seeing before the pandemic and dramatically reduced numbers in the buildings. Staff continue to receive training in this area.

Some members of the public expressed frustration over various issues. Some wanted to thank the district for their hard work. One recommended a conflict resolution symposium to help students learn how to maturely and effectively handle their disagreements in a healthy way.

There was significant drama between various board commissioners, some directly related to BOE business and some apparently more personal. For a more detailed account, continue below.

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The Board of Education met for a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, January 20, 2022 at 7:00 pm in the Clifton High School Media Center.

All commissioners were in attendance.

Paula Raygoza, district PBSIS Coordinator, made a presentation regarding the intervention strategies being used in Clifton. She presented a video tribute and certificate of achievement to Mrs. Tracy Morigi, School Four principal, for her unwavering support and “can do” attitude regarding the PBSIS framework. Clifton began introducing and implementing the Positive Behavior Support In Schools system of intervention several years ago. You can learn more about this statewide initiative here.

The Board recognized January’s Students of the Month from Clifton High School: Freshman Declan Eineker, Sophomore Stefanie Feliciano, Junior Joseph Abill, and Senior Luke Santiago.

Student Report

Senior Student Representative Andrew was not in attendance but Tiffany, the Junior Representative, stepped in with a report. She mentioned various athletic events from CHS’s many teams and announced a badminton tournament happening at CHS on Saturday, January 29th. Tickets are open to the public. The senior class will be hosting a Mr. Cupcakes fundraiser, so if you’re craving a delicious dessert from our local cupcake superstar, find the nearest senior and place an order. The Key Club is hosting a Pie-in-the-Face fundraiser, featuring staff and students as potential pie recipients. For every donation you can help ensure that your favorite person earns a pie in the face. All proceeds benefit Ocean of Love, helping children who are battling cancer. Contact Ms. Turk for more information: jturk@cliftonschools.net.

Tiffany spoke about the at-home instruction option that was offered for the first several weeks following the winter break and highlighted some of the pros and cons of learning from home versus going to class in person. She shared that her own experience of being in class resulted in a poor learning environment for her since so many of her classmates were learning from home and some of her teachers opted not to teach new lessons to the remaining handful of students. Tiffany acknowledged that the state has not given districts the option to offer a full remote plan this year but asked if any one school could implement such an option.

Dr. Robertozzi’s Report

Dr. Robertozzi responded immediately to the student report, agreeing with her criticism of the current situation but clarifying that it was meant as a temporary measure to help ease concerns about post-break Covid cases. All students are required to return to the buildings on Monday. He acknowledged that yes, one whole school could go remote if the situation deemed it necessary. The district is working in concert with the Clifton Health Department to make these determinations. He also asked to be included in the cupcake fundraiser because who doesn’t love cupcakes?

Covid cases are now in a downturn and hopefully they will continue to decline. Dr. Robertozzi updated the isolation requirements, which have changed several times based on CDC and NJDOH recommendations. As each case is unique, a particular family’s quarantine time could be a little different from the published recommendations, based on their specific situation.

Referendum Updates - The superintendent updated the commissioners on referendum progress. The board will be voting tonight to approve a contract with the construction management firm, Epic. Attorneys have already reviewed the contract. Asbestos surveys have been completed in all buildings and Dr. Robertozzi will be meeting with that company to review the results. A water line was discovered under Woodrow Wilson Middle School’s field which can be moved but might cost the district additional money. Phase one of the security camera and door access control systems has been completed in both middle schools and the high school. A construction attorney has been selected and their approval is also on the agenda tonight.

Reports from Administration

Michael Doktor, Director of Operations and Student Services, made a HIB (Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying) and VVSA (Violence, Vandalism, Substance Abuse) presentation as required by the state. The numbers for the first half of the current school year are similar to what we had been collecting in pre-pandemic years.

Mr. Doktor clarified that for an event to be classified as bullying, it must be targeting a distinguishable characteristic such as race, religion, disability, etc. Further, it must create a substantial disruption, causing the victim to miss school, demonstrate a change in behavior or disruptions at home, etc. There were 21 cases of confirmed HIB in Period 1 of this school year, across all schools.

Public Recognition

There were several speakers, half of whom were unhappy with the board for a variety of reasons. Donna Popowich reminded the board that the students must always be at the forefront of their minds when they are making decisions and that we need to do more to promote and teach kindness.

Nina Odatalla thanked the Board of Education for their hard work and congratulated the newly appointed and re-elected commissioners. She also thanked Dr. Robertozzi for his dedication. She then reflected on her own experiences in conflict resolution as a Clifton student years ago and addressed the counterproductive behavior seen in boards of education across the country. She reminded everyone that our children are watching these meetings, observing tone and body language, and learning from the adults what is appropriate behavior. She asked when everyone will move forward from the mistakes made by some board members and stop rehashing the past and bashing them at every meeting. Finally, she suggested that the board help to organize a conflict resolution symposium to help demonstrate to students appropriate and healthy ways to deal with disagreement.

Lori Lalama, president of the teachers’ association, thanked the teachers and paras for their hard work for the past two years, in particular. She also thanked the superintendent for his support and efforts. She asked for a date for the groundbreaking ceremony, especially regarding the elevator at CCMS.

There was no unfinished business.

Mr. Smith reported that the district found that 27 PCTI students no longer live in Clifton and are being removed from our roster. This saves the district $636,276 we were/would be sending to PCTI. We also found that about 18% of transportation students are no longer eligible for this service. Investigations are ongoing into all potential non-resident situations.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management chose Clifton as their first setting for a bomb scenario test case. CHS could be held as a national example for how to handle such a drill.

All Education resolutions passed without comment, with the exception of EA2, the resolution for public participation. That was opened for discussion as Commissioner Daley wanted to clarify the language before voting. It was moved to Executive Session.

All Personnel matters were passed without comment, as were those under Finance/Facilities.

Commissioner Comments

Alan Paris, newcomer, thanked speakers for coming and said that he wants to get his feet wet before commenting too extensively.

Feras Awwad read a quotation about envy, malice, and evil.

Dana Beltran used her time to address her removal from the Finance and Facility Committees by President Jim Smith. She listed some of her many contributions to both and asked why she was removed. She called out the decision as sexism and an upholding of the “good old boys’ club” mindset.

Judy Bassford addressed her nominations at the organizational meeting. Responding to community comments, she nominated Beltran and Canova because she thought they were the right fit for our Board of Education. She is stepping down from two committees because her attorney recommended that she not work alongside some of the other members on those committees. 

Joe Canova spoke about the rise in negative behaviors in children and suggested that being more involved in what your children are doing and who their friends are would help.

Lucy Danny thanked everyone who works in the district, including the students, acknowledging that it’s been a very tough two years. She specifically gave a shout out to our school nurses, who have so much more work to do now. It’s ok to have different views but the way we express them is important, she reminded everyone.

Fahim Abedrabbo offered congratulations to our CHS cheer team following a recent competition. He addressed the harassment from certain commenters and stated that this person has followed and taken photos of his family. Abedrabbo got heated and raised his voice as he discussed ongoing issues with another commissioner.

Jim Daley thanked Mr. Doktor for his HIB presentation and echoed Dr. Danny’s thanks to the district. He also expressed his disappointment that a member of the public used his time at the microphone to attack our superintendent.

Jim Smith also addressed the comments about the superintendent, praising Dr. Robertozzi for his genuine care and concern for our students. He defended himself against the accusations of sexism, saying that he reorganized the committees to give other commissioners the opportunity to serve. He also spoke about the community using their time to attack the board instead of addressing issues that would benefit our students.

New business

Judy Bassford made a motion to discontinue serving food at BOE meetings (and to donate leftovers from the current meeting to St. Peter’s Haven) but that motion failed to pass with many commissioners abstaining during the vote.

The board went into executive session to discuss student and personnel matters, then returned to the public to vote on the issues discussed.

Meeting was adjourned just before 11 pm.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will be held on Thursday, February 10th, at 7:00 pm.

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