SOM Parents for Quality Education Present Action Items for School Safety

by The Village Green
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The following statement was presented at Monday’s South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting, by Suzanne Holt of the Facebook group South Orange Maplewood Parents for Quality Education, led by educator Elissa Malespina. The statement follows two school safety incidents in recent weeks involving weapons possession and a subsequent Town Hall on School Safety on June 8.

On June 8, the community and Board met to address violence within our school district. Below are action items that were put forth by parents, guardians and students to the SOMSD Board of Education. I am presenting these action items on behalf of the  400+ members of the South Orange/Maplewood Parents for a Quality Education community group.

We request that the District consider and respond to the action items below:

  1. Determine which beneficial support programs have been removed from our schools, and discuss bringing these or similar programs back.

  2. Why are certain support programs no longer offered? If budget cuts are the reason for this, then how can we find the funds to reinstate such programs?

  3. Code of conduct  – there should be no doubt that this community does not tolerate any form of violence within or around our school grounds. There should be a clearly defined code of conduct policy that fosters a positive learning environment for all students and teachers. By proactive engagement and early intervention our schools become safer environments for all.

  4. Professionals of color should be better represented within the school district.

  5. Revisit the staffing levels and ratios to students of guidance professionals. What is the current number of professionals and what would be an ideal number to better serve students and parents?

  6. Review school access and security to each of our buildings within the district.

  7. Communication with the Board of Education:

    1. The community request a point of contact person on the BOE for communication with residents.

    2. We request that the BOE will make available an easy-to-find directory on the district website and in the district calendar that gives the email address for each board member, including the board member’s responsibilities (committee assignments).

    3. Discuss/review altering the format of the monthly BOE meetings. The current arrangement feels like there are two sides in the room and does not encourage constructive partnerships within the groups.

    4. A monthly response, at the start of the meetings, be given by board members,  addressing issues/concerns that residents brought up at the previous months meeting. This will alleviate some of the frustrations within the community and save time at future meetings as residents will know their concerns are being addressed.

  8. Teachers need to have a stronger presence within the hallways when classes switch over. Teachers should also be present outside the building at the beginning and end of the school day.

  9. Bullying does go on in our schools, how and when will we address this?

  10. Columbia High School – perception of gang issues is just as damaging to a school as to having those issues. Chatter within the school and community fosters fear and apprehension.

  11. We as a community should contact government officials to help put laws into place to address gun violence within our schools both regionally and nationally.

Maplewood and South Orange is a caring and involved community. We address child hunger through the Backpack Program, offer free tutoring through the Achieve Foundation, host the Gay Pride Festival, arrange social awareness events through The Race Coalition, and allow our high school students to protest current issues enabling theirs voices to be heard. Our children excel in academics, music and sports, and are engaged in their community. They and we have so much to the proud of, but their achievements have been overshadowed by negative chatter and press.

The education of an entire community of students in all the schools is affected by the behavior of just a few students. We recently learned that just 10 students at MMS have had 31 of the 54 suspensions in the district. By proactive engagement let’s identity these students who need additional support, offering students and parents services that will make our schools a better environment for all.

We, the parents of SOMSD district are engaged and ready to assist the board in offering a quality education and environment for all.

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