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Montclair Education Association
MEA President Petal Robertson speaks during the Nov. 19 BOE meeting. The MEA was critical of a presentation by student equity advocate Joseph Graham earlier this month.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair Education Association members voiced objections to what they said is a lack of communication with teachers concerning students’ allegations of discrimination, sexual harassment or academic sabotage.

On Nov. 7, new student equity advocate Joseph Graham presented to the board an overview of his nine months in the district working with students, staff and families on cases. He said that number was at about 150, telling the board of the importance of student confidentiality unless the issue required the intervention of school administrators and other authorities.

MEA President Petal Robertson, addressing the board of education on Nov. 19, said Graham did not communicate with her prior to his presentation and that the MEA was not apprised of any of the allegations in the 150 incident reports.

MEA members are concerned there may be a perception that teachers aren’t taking students’ concerns and reports seriously.

Robertson noted that issues such as child abuse are criminal offenses, and MEA members are required by law to report them to police and school administration. She said the MEA had not received any documentation concerning criminal offenses.

“All parties lose when there is no accountability. Therefore, we as a district end up causing further harm to the student,” Robertson said.

Superintendent Kendra Johnson said the presentation was an overview of Graham’s work since he was hired by the district, and that it was to discuss what he had learned in speaking with students and parents.

The student equity advocate’s job is not to interview staff members, she added.

MEA Vice President Tom Manos said Graham’s presentation also dealt with alleged actions by teachers and principals. He wanted to know if the student equity advocate’s work crosses over to issues such as institutionalized racism among staff and the effects on students.

“Some people walked away [from Graham’s presentation] with different messages, so the presentation wasn’t as clear as it could have been.” Johnson said.

Graham will be delivering a follow-up presentation in December. MEA members asked the board to keep them apprised of any information that will be discussed. Johnson agreed to the request.

Homeschoolers playing sports

Montclair is discussing whether to allow Montclair homeschooled children to participate in school-sponsored sports at the high school.

Board member Priscilla Church said there were differing views among the board’s policy committee on whether to permit homeschooled children to play on Montclair teams. The current policy forbids it at this time.

Board member Eve Robinson said she was in favor of the idea, saying it would give homeschooled children a chance to socialize with their peers. “It’s wonderful to be able to be on a team with your peers.”

But board member Jessica de Koninck said she had doubts about the idea because students who play sports in the school district are bound by certain rules, including attendance and going for physicals. “You’re saying that everyone’s got to follow the rules, except for certain students who don’t,” she said.

She questioned why an exception would be made for just sports and not other extracurricular activities.

Church said the district might require homeschooled students who want to play sports to undergo physicals and meet the necessary medical requirements.

Johnson said that Montclair has a very small population of students who are homeschooled, though she did not offer exact numbers.

The board agreed to discuss the matter further.

Music and dance

The first half of the meeting saw musical performances from two of Montclair’s schools.

Nishuane students demonstrated the instruments they had made from recycled materials in a workshop earlier this fall. The workshop, organized by Nishuane parent Patricia Abad, taught students about the music of the Cumbia River region in Colombia, and showed them how to make their own instruments.

From Renaissance, both the school’s sixth-grade dance company and student rock band performed.

Renaissance’s performances were part of a larger talk on Renaissance’s mission. The school is the smallest of Montclair’s three middle schools, and unlike the other schools, does not rely on a tracked academic system. Before the groups performed, the schools presented a humorous video — with references to “Back to the Future” and “Rocky” — about Principal Joseph Putrino returning to Renaissance, where he had once taught.

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