Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

Letter: Founding Members of PARES Issue Response to ‘Attacks’ on Lawson-Muhammad

From the Founding Members of PARES—Parents in Partnership for Respect and Equity in SOMA Schools:

We wish to vehemently condemn the attack and salacious media circus that has erupted in the last 24 hours following the release of dashboard camera footage of Board of Education member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad. The attacks on Ms. Lawson-Muhammad appear to be led by those who have disagreed with Ms.Lawson-Muhammad’s community activism as well as the positions she has taken as a BOE member during her last two terms. We fear that attacking Ms. Lawson-Muhammad is a blatant ploy to sow dissent and encourage discord among the BOE, just as it embarks on its plan to desegregate our school district.

Whether or not one agrees with Ms. Lawson-Muhammad, or indeed the BOE’s position on issues affecting our district, we contend that these attempts to publicly humiliate, and nationally malign Ms.Lawson-Muhammad go too far. StephanieLawson-Muhammad is an unpaid community volunteer, shouldering scores of hours of BOE obligations each month. She is an African American mother of three children who works full time and chooses to serve.

As the founding members of PARES, we came together as mothers focused on pushing the Board of Education and the school district administration to ensure equitable access to opportunities for all students. Since that time, we have come to know and deeply appreciate the effort and time necessary to achieve true and lasting change. As such, we believe strongly that our community must do everything possible to encourage talented, passionate, and skilled individuals to join in this effort, whether or not their views always align with our vision. If we as a community embrace the cynical ‘gotcha culture’ that has gripped the rest of the country- what message are we sending to other dedicated community members who may desire to serve in the public sphere? What behavior are we modeling for our children?

We call on the SOMA community to reject these thinly veiled attempts to disrupt the important work of the BOE. We call on the BOE leadership to resist any efforts to discourage Ms.Lawson-Muhammad’s presence on the BOE. If Ms.Lawson-Muhammad’s actions were so unreasonable, the voters can make their voices heard, should she choose to seek reelection. We encourage the SOMA community to instead focus on the vital work ahead as we seek to build a modernized, inclusive school district which upholds the values of excellence and equity for all children.

We offer our support to Ms. Lawson-Muhammad at this precarious time; we express compassion rather than condemnation.

Thank you, Ms.Lawson-Muhammad, for your continued service to our community and to our children.

Ritu Bachlawat

Tawana Burnett

Paula Juliana Gomez

Jessi Gottlieb Empestan

Gail Greenstein

Julia Haubner Smith

Tania Mason-Eastmond

Rhea Mokund-Beck

PARES—Parents in Partnership for Respect and Equity in SOMA Schools 

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