Maplewood Opinion Schools / Kids South Orange

Johanna Wright: Board President Withheld Notification of Traffic Stop From BOE Members

It is no question that Ms. Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad and I have disagreed on many topics over the years about how to best serve our children. But through all the disagreements, what I have found out in the last week has been a shock to my system. For years, I have felt that South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker was not telling me about certain Board of Education (BOE) matters until she was forced to tell me.

I have made statements publicly over the years about the fact that information has been withheld, or purposely misstated to the public as well as to BOE members.

Neither Ms. Lawson-Muhammad, Ms. Baker nor any other member notified me of the traffic stop incident until it became public knowledge. I did speak with the district’s attorney about the incident on the evening of May 14, 2018.

Ms. Baker withheld BOE information from me, and, at least, [BOE member Anthony] Mazzocchi about this unfortunate incident. I can only go by the information in the articles written by the Village Green and Mr. Joe Strupp [of TAPintoSOMA], but it appears that other BOE members were also involved in keeping this matter quiet.

I am concerned that my past experience of not receiving information timely from Ms. Baker may have occurred on more than one occasion, and who knows how that has impacted my ability to represent our community. I have grave concerns that we have a Board President that is withholding information from the Board. People elected board members to represent the communities concerns. The Board President does not have the privilege to withhold information.

This is the way the Board of Education is normally known for communicating…selectively. It is not just that it doesn’t communicate with the public, it doesn’t communicate with its own members effectively.

Yes, we can disagree on policy, procedure and process. But if information is withheld from me or any other BOE member, our constituents are disenfranchised, which means our kids are not being represented.

Ms Baker has yet to contact me personally about this matter. As the BOE President, I think she should have notified all BOE members immediately upon receipt of the video.

Many people have asked me if Ms. Lawson-Muhammad should resign. She will have to decide for herself at this point in time, but Mr. Walter Fields made a great point in his letter where he stated that Ms. Lawson-Muhammad has escaped punishment for calling the police chief a “skinhead”.

As a BOE member, I have presided over many harassment, intimidation and bullying investigations over the years.

I even presided over cases where Ms. Lawson-Muhammad has found children guilty for actions less severe than what we witnessed on the video.

If we are going to hold our children to a higher standard than adults, then we as a district, and a community, have it all wrong.

I am not speaking on behalf of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.

Johanna Wright is a member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.

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