South Orange-Maplewood Schools Leader Calls for ‘Patience and Civility’ in Alleged Hijab Incident

by The Village Green
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From South Orange-Maplewood School District Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor:

October 12, 2021

Good Afternoon South Orange & Maplewood School District Community,

As you may be aware, over the past several days, our District has been the focus of heavy media scrutiny on both the local and national levels, due to the alleged actions of a staff member.  Our Central Office as well as Seth Boyden’s main office have been flooded with hundreds of calls and we have received over 2,000 emails, a majority of which have been from parties outside of our community and New Jersey.

The overarching tone of these correspondences condemn the alleged actions of the staff member and strongly advocate for adverse personnel action.  However, some of the correspondences have been threatening, disrespectful, and vulgar in nature.

The values of our District and community have always centered around diversity, equity and respect regarding our differences.  Our goal is to be inclusive and to provide an environment of safety where both our students and staff can thrive irrespective of their race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual identity, or socioeconomic status.

Although the nature of the allegations can cause an emotional response, we want to request for patience and civility during this time.  The harsh and threatening comments received towards the Seth Boyden school, staff and District as a whole is concerning.  Our staff should not be afraid to come to school or feel a heightened sense of concern for their personal safety due to threats from others. We are hopeful and all agree that the alleged actions of one employee should not condemn an entire community.

Over the last few days, I have personally visited Seth Boyden multiple times to offer support and was deeply moved to see the school community moving forward with a sense of positive purpose.  Regarding our process when dealing with an issue or crisis such as the alleged actions previously mentioned, we have kept our local elected leaders abreast of our plan of action and appreciate their support.    I have also had multiple conversations with our Board of Education President and other Elected Officials regarding their palpable concern for the wellbeing of our students and staff.

As we teach our children and students, social media, while a great technological tool,  is one that must be leveraged responsibly.  In our statement last week we communicated, “social media is not a reliable forum for due process and the staff member(s) involved are entitled to due process before any action is taken and we must abide by our legal obligations to keep personnel and student matters confidential.”  In light of all of this, we want to thank the SOMSD community for supporting the concept of due process and civility while respectfully sharing your concerns.

In particular, Seth Boyden Elementary School is an environment that has traditionally been dedicated to maintaining a culture of wellness, diversity, and safety that creates a positive environment for its students to succeed on campus and in their personal lives.  Daily, their dedicated administrators, staff, students and parents strive to uphold these values and improve our community.  We want to specifically thank Seth Boyden’s administrators and staff for ensuring that in the midst of what has been a challenging few days our students continued to receive an exemplary education and were safeguarded from external factors.

To that point, pursuant to our Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Maplewood Police Department (MPD), we have been directed to pause our internal investigation into the alleged actions as the Prosecutor’s Office and MPD lead their own inquiry. As a reminder, while the District cannot comment on matters involving personnel or staff, the community can be assured that all necessary measures have been taken to remedy the immediate situation within the purview of the District’s power, while this matter is being investigated.  Our ultimate hope is that a fair and just outcome would arise from this formal review for all parties involved.

In closing, we as educators (and parents ourselves) understand that these types of allegations can spark conversations with our children at home. These are not always easy or comfortable discussions but can be invaluable ‘teachable moments’ for us all. To that end, please review the resources below that you may find useful as you discuss this situation with your child(ren) and family.

Yours in education,

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor, Superintendent of Schools

cc:  Thair Joshua, Board of Education President
cc: Frank McGehee, Mayor, Maplewood Township
cc:  Sheena Collum, President, Township of South Orange Village

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