In support of students’ right to protest

Last Friday, Montclair High School students left their classrooms to gather outside school to protest against those politicians who still refuse to listen to scientists, warnings and avoiding seeing what reality is showing us. Our earth is deteriorating rapidly, and it is more visible than ever. Raging storms, flooding, hurricanes, ice melting, earthquakes, extinct animals. This is not going to stop until governments start protecting our nature, restoring the damage done and stopping funding things that destroy nature and pay those which help it thrive, as activist Greta Thunberg says.

On Thursday, Sept.19, parents received a letter from MHS principal, which I found very disappointing. The letter says: “Please be aware that MHS supports the students’ right to protest. However, if students participate and skip class, it will be counted as a cut for those period(s) they miss.”

English is my second language, but I think the letter is saying “we support,” which it didn’t seem very credible to me because in the next sentence it implies we will punish those who skip class.

Lately, I frankly cannot think of something more serious and important than going after the ones who are making or allowing others make “our home” inhabitable for future generations. School will be irrelevant in a decade when we will be forced to just survive.
It was disappointing that the school decided to punish instead of support students. It was disappointing that teachers did not spend the whole week talking about the environment in preparation for Friday's protest. It was disappointing that students were not encouraged to go to New York City to join the historic protest there. It was disappointing that school authorities were not there to accompany our students.

After all, “our home” is in danger and I cannot think of a more important task than to defend our planet.

Maria Eva Dorigo



On assault rifles and background checks

I think that I have seen a possible (partial) solution in the prevention of future mass shootings in our country.

Just before I wrote this, I read that the gun manufacturer Colt will discontinue manufacturing assault rifles meant to be sold to the American public. If every gun manufacturer would adopt the same approach, it will seriously reduce the number of assault rifles in the public's possession. There would be no threat to the Second Amendment. We could then concentrate on enforcing the laws already on the books.
On another note, would it be possible to create an electronic database of people who have failed the background checks? This database could be accessed by sellers at every level, including gun shows and, possibly, private sellers. Not to mention, gun shop employees. I find it hard to believe that responsible gun owners want these people to have guns and tarnish their reputations.




Need action from Freeholders on ICE, vote machine replacement

At the last Essex County Freeholders meeting, many speakers addressed two issues: Essex County’s contract with ICE, which the speakers unanimously urged the freeholders to end, and the need to replace our voting machines with the most secure models available.
The freeholders promised that everyone who spoke would receive an answer in writing. Some people, however, said they were still waiting for answers to questions asked at previous meetings. The freeholders offered no comments about the status of the ICE contract, and only partially responded to concerns about voting machines.

Since these are matters of concern to many citizens, and since not everyone can attend every meeting, I believe that the freeholders should share their views about both issues more openly.

There’s a simple solution. The freeholders recently launched a redesigned website. A press release said the new site would “offer a better sense of transparency.” Why not add statements clarifying the board’s positions on important issues? This is a common practice at other levels of government — see Cory Booker’s senate website, for example.
I’d like to see our freeholders rise to the new level of transparency they promised by explaining their reasons for continuing to collaborate with ICE, despite the powerful arguments against it. I would have thought that, as Democrats in a blue county in a blue state, they’d have come to a different decision.

It would also be helpful to learn which model of voting machines will be used in the pilot program in November, which Freeholder President Brendan Gill mentioned at the meeting. Activists who spoke at the meeting pointed out that most models can be hacked, and urged the freeholders to meet with them and hear about the most secure options. Gill didn’t specify which machines will be used. If we end up with voting machines that aren’t secure and don’t have a paper backup, that will be inexcusable.

I hope the freeholders will add informational statements to their website, clarifying their positions on these important issues. And I still hope, against my skeptical instincts, that a statement will appear on that webpage informing us that they’ve decided to end the ICE contract.




‘All-inclusive’ playground leaves out some

In Montclair Local’s Aug. 15 article about the new playground at Watsessing Park (“Fighting for universal access,” page 4), you quote Mr. Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. as saying that “All the equipment, the county contends, is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and current playground codes.”

What does it really mean that the playground is ADA compliant? If you’ve ever read through the ADA guidelines for playgrounds, it’s a bit like entering the Tim Burton version of Wonderland.

Accessibility in the ADA guidelines has more to do with a disabled child getting to a play structure than actually being able to play on it, especially for children with mobility impairments.

According to Mr. Di Vincenzo, “The all-access park at Watsessing Park … has ramps for wheelchair accessibility … swings and seesaws designed with bucket seats for children in wheelchairs.”

Yet the reality for many children who use wheelchairs is that it is not easy for them to be moved from their wheelchair to play equipment and back again. Some children cannot be put in a swing without the aid of two people. There are also plenty of children who use wheelchairs who have poor or no upper body control and would find it nearly impossible to sit in a bucket seat without a harness. None of the bucket seats on any of the swings, see-saws and roundabouts have harnesses. Had the people who designed and built this playground consulted with families of children with mobility impairments, they would have been able to build a playground that serves real children with mobility impairments not the smiling ones in shiny brochures.

Surely somewhere in the more than $1.4 million budget, some money could’ve been found for a wheelchair accessible swing, merry-go-round or seesaw, play equipment that children do not have to leave their wheelchair to use.

Did Mr. DiVincenzo or any of the other people involved in the design of the playground consult local people in the disability community to find out what would actually work for them?

Iris, a friend whose 11-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, was not consulted. Not only that, she tried for months to contact someone in her local government to talk about what children in wheelchairs would need but was passed around from person to person, most of whom never got back to her at all. She did finally manage to speak to one of the freeholders but by then it was too late. This is what that very same freeholder said during the opening ceremony:
“I received a call from a constituent who told me their child was severely disabled the only thing they wanted to do in their life was to be able to put their child in a swing. It was a simple request that we were able to follow up on, make some potential adjustments to the design and the plan … and I think that’s what being an elected official hopefully is all about. It’s not for us, it’s not for the ground breaking. It’s for that individual who reaches out to you, who wants one thing in their life… we have the honor to serve and to be in the position to be able to make that happen. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing each and every day.”

What adjustments were made to the plan after this simple request? At the opening ceremony people spoke eloquently and proudly about the playground and while there is much to be proud of there is also much to be reflected upon. After the ceremony Iris asked to use their microphone to speak about what she thinks are the shortcomings of the playground but she was refused. She started speaking anyway. She was understandably upset and angry and certainly spoke loudly enough to be heard.

Of those people who spoke so eloquently and many of them, I believe, sincerely about equity and accessibility, only one of them, Ted Gamble, councilman-at-large for Bloomfield, bothered to speak to Iris about why she was upset. Everyone else ignored her.

So to all of the people who spoke that day, especially to the freeholder who it seems to me, used Iris’ story to boost his image in the eyes of his community, I say this, It’s one thing to make honest mistakes out of ignorance or to have to tell people, “we can’t do that,” but to ignore “that individual who reaches out to you, who wants one thing in their life …” is not something to be proud of. These are real families with real children who face enormous difficulties every day and would just like a place where they can play.

This is not to take away anything from the children, this playground serves well and there are many of them, but I ask our public officials to reflect on how they can be of true service to some of our most vulnerable children and their families who need their help. Don’t ignore them. Listen to them, ask them what they need. You might just learn something.




Build the Donald J. Trump Tunnel

On Sunday, Sept. 14, The New York Times ran an editorial entitled “Build the Donald J. Trump Tunnel.” I don’t know if the Times meant to be ironic or not with their headline but the issue raised is one of great importance to the New York/NewJersey region.
The need for a new railway tunnel through the Hudson River is an urgently needed infrastructure project in an area which accounts for more than 10 percent of the national economy.

Anyone traveling by train through the tunnel on a regular basis can attest to the vast amounts of time wasted on the daily commute. When repairs are made during the summer, the situation only gets worse. Several years ago waters from Hurricane Sandy flooded the tunnel causing even longer delays. With storms and severe weather events more likely, who knows how long the tunnel will function. Should it fail or be severely disabled, the consequences for the local economy and the nation as a whole would be dire.

Under the Obama administration, the federal government agreed to pay half the costs for the project while the remainder of the costs would be paid by New York and New Jersey. The states remain eager to pay their share to get the work done. But as the Times states “the Trump administration, which rarely misses a chance to shiv a blue state, has refused to fund its share out of pique.” Surely, we in the area deserve better. Our future prosperity depends on it.

We need a new tunnel built. Let’s raise our voices to put pressure on the politicians and our elected officials to get it done.
As the Times suggests, whatever it takes to get it done would be worth it.




Chestnut Street mural should be removed

Your coverage of the gun violence mural on Chestnut Street stated the previous murals were "both with anti-gun violence messages." The one mural encouraged inter-racial cooperation. It was titled "We all hold up together" and contained the celebratory tribute "Montclair Days of Caring 1996." There was no reference to guns or violence in either of them.

The new mural depicts and, therefore, condones targeting people. Whether they are being targeted for water balloons, gossip, dodge balls or disparaging remarks is not clarified. Targeting people is never nice.

It is clear that the mural should be removed before it encourages hateful behavior.




We could learn something from millennials

Millennials have made lemonade out of lemons. The idea that they can save for a down payment is ludicrous, so they live longer with their parents. With average student loan debt at around $31,000 they can’t afford nights out, so they have learned to make homebrew. As jobs disappear, they work gigs, start food trucks, and sell on Etsy.
In New Jersey, the average cost for one child in daycare is $11,000 per year. Millennials are marrying later and planning smaller families.
I’m not sure what will happen if millennials switch from being sad and resourceful, to angry and mobilized. I suspect that it would be a good idea to listen to them while we have the chance.

This week’s Climate Strike— which included hundreds of Montclair students — was a generation’s demand that we address climate change with the seriousness that the problem warrants. This requires both a massive reduction in the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and increased funding for the research that will help us plan for the reality of rising temperatures.

After decades of celebrating “Take Your Kids to Work” day, maybe it’s time for the kids to take their parents and grandparents to some teach-ins. Millennials, after all, are experts at adapting to a changing world.




Bus problems at Renaissance Middle School

While I appreciate the Board of Education’s mass email to parents that came out well after a week of school starting, I still refuse to put my daughter on the bus until this and multiple other issues are resolved.

Due to the fact that her bus follows no predictable timeline, minus a Magic 8-Ball, GPS trackers, or any reliable way to communicate with the bus driver or transportation office, we have entirely upended our family schedule to accommodate having to drive our daughter to school every day.

The BOE's email only addresses the issues of timing and route planning, which are indeed serious deficiencies, but does not address the fact that drivers appear to not know how to operate a bus, follow no safety precautions, i.e. not pulling over to the side of the road hence making school children walk into the street, aides that do not get off their phone or assist/observe children cross busy intersections, driving the wrong way on one way streets and other hazardous road behavior that has been witnessed all over town. Not to mention the two days in a row our bus forgot to pick up several children and turned back, delivering the entire busload of children to school a good 30 minutes after the start of the school day.
It is confounding that this would not be addressed in the original email and even more confounding how the district could hire a new bus company without seemingly any quality control, training, or preparation.

It seems that every year, the first day of school comes as some sort of unexpected surprise to the BOE transportation department and bus companies, followed by weeks of apologetic emails and requests for time to "iron out the details." Is there a reason that the transportation office has to take the entire summer off? Would it not make more sense for them to get back to work at least a week or two before school starts, allowing drivers to practice their route and get a sense of timing?

Myself and the entire parenting community of Montclair are beyond frustrated. The level of incompetence has been staggering, followed only by the astonishing poor level of communication. I am pretty sure the original email only went out because Montclair Local was contacted, and to date, nearly three weeks after school has started, I have left multiple voicemails for the transportation office, without a single return call.
We need and want solutions to this issue, and we need to hold all parties accountable for causing this level of stress to the parents and students of Montclair.

The things I have read on social media are astonishing - kids taking Ubers to school, single moms weeping to their bosses in apology for being late to work every day, children urinating in their clothes because they're on the bus for hours, and an account of several children being left behind at school because the bus pulled away without checking that all kids were on board. We need to be able to trust the people driving our children, and right now I am not sure a single parent in this town feels assured for their child's safety as he or she boards the bus, if, that is, the bus even shows up.




What we can do to halt climate change

The demonstrations in Montclair protesting climate change on Friday were fun, both the one on Bloomfield Avenue and the protest near the high school, even though we weren’t allowed to be with the students. One passer-by actually asked what we can do to prevent climate change.

Stop idling vehicles, it destroys an engine to be idled more than 30 seconds, and even that should be done only in the coldest winter days. I see far too much idling in Montclair.
Stop using power lawn machinery. I heard a congressman say in front of hundreds of people that if we are serious about climate change, we will ban power lawn machinery nationwide. That audience clapped enthusiastically. I have tended our fifth acre and raised most of our vegetables for four decades with no power machinery.

I believe all leaf blowers should be outlawed in Montclair year round.

Open the dishwasher as the dry cycle begins. Heating uses much energy and dishes dry by themselves just fine. If the weather is nice, hang clothes on the line. Saving energy saves money as well as thwarting climate change.

I will probably die before climate change affects Montclair, but I see the effects already. Its potential effects are scary for my grandson and many other people I care about.
Do your part to prevent it.




GOP pro-gun mural insensitive

The mural proposed by the Montclair Republican Club is extremely insensitive.
Our children have grown up with gun violence in schools, homes, houses of worship, and streets.

The Montclair High School mural is a plea to stop the violence. It is asking for a more humane world for students and their future generations. It is not a political mural.
The timing and location of the Republican Club's desired mural to apparently support the Second Amendment is no coincidence. There is nothing in the Second Amendment that prevents licensing of guns and prohibiting ownership of assault rifles. Listen to our children.