Suspensions, special education continue to be focus at Montclair BOE meeting
By ERIN ROLL
The subject of suspensions and equity continued to come up for discussion at the Monday, Jan. 22, BOE meeting.
The meeting - a relatively short one, lasting an hour and a half - also included a discussion of the district’s action plan for its special education services.
At the Jan. 10 workshop meeting, the board presented the suspension report, which appeared to indicate that students of color and special needs students were disproportionately more likely to be suspended than their peers in other demographics.
James Harris, representing the Montclair NAACP, said that the district needed to pay close attention to how an unusually large number of African-American students, especially boys, were being classified into special education classes. He said that Montclair had been under review for that issue in the past.
“I’m hoping that as we dive into more info about the profile of the students in special ed, that we will have a voice implying the disproportionality of African-American students in special ed,” he said.
Petal Robertson, chair of the Montclair Education Association, said that it wasn’t fair to assume that teachers were largely responsible for what led to the suspensions.
“It’s insulting, because we’re not the one who unscrewed the lights, or the chair,” she said.
Margaret Whitsett, a teacher at Glenfield, said that over the past few years, the district had gradually done away with resources and tools, including the elimination of student assistance counselor positions, that were especially valuable to students of color.
“Institutional racism is about power. Power is not held at the middle, but at the top,” she said.
“I just want to make painfully sure that this is not an exercise in futility,” she said. “So when this conversation is done, what are the policies that this board is going to enact to stop institutional racism?”
Thomas Santagato, the district’s director of pupil services, gave an overview of the action plan, which includes a look at the process to identify students with disabilities, a review of the effectiveness of programs, and a review of placing students out of district.
The meeting started off with students from Buzz Aldrin Middle School challenging the board to a game called “How Well Do You Know Montclair,” a challenge to open a specially-designed lockbox using clues about Montclair. There was also a presentation from Sister to Sister, an organization that pairs girls in the Montclair schools with female mentors from the community.
Board President Laura Hertzog announced that the board planned to introduce finalists for the superintendent position in February. She said that the board had spent several hours over the weekend interviewing candidates for the position.