Montclair is burning. Montclair is divided.
Those are the some of the sentiments expressed by parents angry with members of the Montclair Board of Education as well as Interim Superintendent Dr. Nathan Parker.
Like the last BOE meeting in January, there were repeated calls for Parker’s immediate resignation, referencing remarks he made at a Montclair NAACP Education Committee meeting. Several spoke as members of the National Independent Black Parent Association (NIBPA).
The meeting started with enthusiastic performances from Renaissance at Rand middle school students in honor of Black History Month. First, the school’s rock band performed a rap rock song based on Langston Hughes poem and then dance company students followed up with a dynamic dance number showcasing how movement needs unity in order to bring harmony.
The performances were the only light moment of the night. The remainder of the meeting was tense, starting off with some dire numbers in the proposed Montclair Schools 2020 Budget Presentation — Special Education, Curriculum and Schools/Departments, presented by Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea. Of note, was the item in the budget for out of district placements — $6,101,575.00, as well as a proposed $1,000,000.00 (up from $700,000) for judgements against the district.
During public comment, several Montclair High School students detailed their frustration at not having a qualified permanent teacher for AP Physics since the beginning of the school year. Students expressed concern that they would not be prepared for the exam, a test many had already paid $94 to take. Students said the teacher currently teaching does not know the material and that they are not learning physics. The students briefly had access to an actual astrophysicist, a relative of one of the students who helped explain the material, but it was short lived. So far, students report that they have only covered two of the seven units needed for the exam.
Andrew Gideon asked what was being done to correct the situation and why it had gotten to a crisis level.
“Why is everything an emergency? Why is there never any foreknowledge? There’s no planning. You don’t want me to mention names, but a teacher retired last year,” Gideon said. “The search for his replacement started I believe one week or two before he left. That’s insane. We have students in classes without teachers. These are students who are excited, eager, passionate to be here and we’re cutting them off at the knees. It’s February. Where is the restoration? Where is the justice? When is something being done for these students?”
Most of the remaining public comments were centered around Dr. Parker and the Board.
Kellia Sweatt, speaking for Montclair Chapter of the NIBPA, called for Dr. Parker’s immediate resignation. “We need you to do the honorable thing and leave on your own. If you do not, we’re calling for the board then to remove you.”
“As I told him [Parker] that night at the NAACP meeting, I don’t believe racist teachers can keep their beliefs separate from the classroom,” Nicole Farjani said. “And if any of you believe that they can [gesturing to the Board], you are so far removed from the classroom that maybe you shouldn’t be sitting here making the big decisions.”
Montclair Education Association president Petal Robertson also weighed in on the issue of remarks made by Dr. Parker.
“I was not at a NAACP meeting so I don’t know what was said at an NAACP meeting. But I do know what was said to me when I first met the superintendent,” Robertson said. “And it’s so closely resembles what the audience here tonight is saying, what’s said to them at the end of NAACP meeting. Montclair is burning and by ignoring race issues and by ignoring policy and anyone who could have a policy that allows them to ignore race issues, it affects every aspect of the education.
“No one who is allowed to ignore race issues, should have any control over a budget. This association has no choice but to speak publicly. It’s not to add fuel to the fire, but to notify this board that the district is burning. And until we decide to do something about it, we are always going to be on fire,” Robertson said.
The next public meeting of the Montclair Board of Education will be held on Wednesday,February 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm in the George Inness Annex Atrium at 141 Park Street. The meeting will go into closed session until approximately 7:30 pm when it will re-open to the public.
Montclair will hold Superintendent Search Input sessions where the public can give input for setting criteria for the background, training and experience necessary for the next Superintendent of Schools. Sessions are:
February 10 at 4 pm*
Charles H. Bullock School Library
February 10 at 7:30 pm*
Northeast School Library
February 12 at 10 am*
District Office, 22 Valley Road
*Snow date – February 26
George Innes Annex Atrium