The national discussion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Dream Act came back to the local level on Feb. 7, as the board of education discussed a resolution concerning Dreamer students and their families in Montclair.

The resolution, which was not officially on the agenda for that evening, would determine how the district would provide protections and support for students who would be affected by any changes to DACA or the Dream Act.

Board President Laura Hertzog said that the resolution had been sent to board member Jessica de Koninck by a member of the community. The writer, Bill Beren, later spoke in the public comment period.

“I think we have to call it for what it is, a symbolic gesture,” board member Joe Kavesh said. “It is the right gesture, but it is a symbolic gesture.”

The discussion led to a larger debate over how political a school board should be. “I don’t know if this affects our job as a BOE,” Hertzog said. She asked if the board was going to take a position on any piece of legislation that would affect children.

“I’m at the point in my life where, if it’s important, I have to go for it,” de Koninck said.

She mentioned the arrest of three Montclair clergy in a protest at Rep. Leonard Lance’s office in Westfield earlier in the week. “Including my own rabbi, I will disclose that,” she said.

“This issue, right now, is dividing our country,” board member Eve Robinson said.

Hertzog said that she was not seated at the board table as a private citizen, while Mernin said that she would prefer to know what Dreamers living in Montclair would prefer the board to do.

“Politics is the way you live your life every day,” Robinson said. “Politics is what guides us all. It is personal.”

Kavesh responded: “School boards ought not to be political. And if you think education is drenched in politics now, imagine what it’d be like if we went to an elected school board.”

Watchung staff
Part of the public comment period included concerns about remarks that had been made at a previous meeting about teachers.
A large number of Montclair Education Association members were in attendance.

In the public comment period at the Jan. 22 meeting, the MEA said, two audience members made statements about staff members at Watchung and Nishuane. The statements, which accused the teachers of discrimination, were false, the MEA said.

Staff member Valerie Hampton said that the last thing the MEA wanted was an adversarial relationship with any parent, board member or community member. “But as educators, we have a responsibility to go beyond the emotions, to the facts,” Hampton said.

MEA chair Petal Robertson acknowledged all of the staff at Nishuane and Watchung, and she indicated that the school staff had not received much support from the central district office on the matter.

Hertzog addressed the issue before opening the floor to public comments. “We cannot have conversations about our employees and our students, at a public meeting with a microphone,” she said.

De Koninck also pointed out that since meetings are televised, any private information that gets shared in a meeting will also end up on television.