See the entire letter -- which was sent Sunday and again promises a town hall style meeting on the issue -- below:
March 12, 2017
Dear South Orange Maplewood School Community,
South Orange Maplewood School District and our two towns pride ourselves on our diversity and commitment to inclusion. In an increasingly divided America, we have consciously chosen SOMA as the community to foster our children’s social and educational growth. In doing so, we must embrace all the opportunities and challenges inherent in striving for an inclusive and equitable community.
As issues of intolerance and exclusion continue to plague our country, the reality is that schools are a microcosm of society, and are not immune to what goes on around us.
We are writing this letter together to reinforce that we are committed to realizing the goals of equity which are foundational to South Orange and Maplewood. Our communities and district have not, cannot, and will not abide bias or intolerance of any kind.
Our Board of Education has repeatedly and unequivocally articulated the district’s commitment to ensuring that the dignity and rights of every member of our school community are respected. We understand that celebrating diversity is not the same as embracing it, and that the adoption of policies is only one step. We all acknowledge that there are significant hurdles and historic inequities that are embedded in institutions at every level.
We have much more, intensely difficult and self-reflective, work to do as we examine and correct decades of individual and institutional, explicit and implicit bias. As a community, we must not only recognize the resulting manifestations and harm, but work together with honesty and diligence towards solutions.
There is considerable work taking place in our schools on school climate, anti-bias education, culturally responsive teaching and restorative practices. The District is committed to this work and is planning to expand all these efforts in the coming year – despite the constraints on our resources. This is a top priority. Hate, bias and intimidation have no place in our inclusive school community.
As we have discussed in the past, we must be intentional in our work to avoid the “us” versus “them” mindset which can take hold. This is particularly important when children err – committing acts that seem to fly in the face of our community’s values and causing harm.
While we of course address these choices appropriately, we must also remember that every child is a valued member of our school community, and deserves our support and guidance, even when they err. As our school communities respond, it is important to focus on the fact that everyone is committed to empowering our students within an atmosphere of equity, excellence, and respect.
We are on the same side.
In the next few weeks, we will be holding a town hall meeting and we hope you will join us in a healthy and productive dialogue to help us move forward. We will provide a detailed overview of policy implementation, professional development, curriculum revisions, and programs currently underway. Then, as a community, we will discuss current issues facing our schools. We hope to work together to optimally serve your children, our children, the students of South Orange and Maplewood.
Elizabeth A. Baker - President of the Board of Education
John J. Ramos, Sr. Ed.D. - Superintendent of Schools