Tomorrow, March 9th, at 5:30 the Perth Amboy Board of Education will hold its monthly public meeting in the high school auditorium.
Two key differences from the typical meetings according to a letter addressed to “Honorable Members of the Board of Education” from Business Administrator Michael LoBrace, copied to Superintendent David Roman and assorted administrators: First, the standard order of business—the public gets to speak first and later the Board goes into Executive Session for an unknown period of time—will be reversed. The meeting will be called to order and the Board will immediately get up and disappear. Only then will the public be able to make comments. Second, the public can’t actually be there, even though the auditorium can hold over 700 people. Instead they can offer comments by calling a phone number and providing a meeting ID and password. “Upon joining the meeting,” LoBrace’s letter explalns, “members of the public will be muted to ensure there is no disruption to to the business being conducted by the Board of Education.”
Sounds like some Perth Amboy officials have their tails between their legs. What else could account for this bizarre muffling of the public?
Everyone knows what’s up: In fact, the first item on the agenda, after the Board gets back from its indefinite Executive Session, is “Juvenile crimes within the community.”
What are those “juvenile crimes”?
They’ve been going on for a while, well before two and a half weeks ago when a fifth-grader stabbed a classmate with a knife at Shull Middle School. According to inside sources, district leaders have failed to control student behavior for years. In 2019 the teacher union president Patricia Paradiso told the Board “there is a level of student aggression in our buildings that is distressing” and “staff members are getting hit, kicked, punched and bitten. No child should have to witness this behavior day after day in their classroom.” Earlier this school year 6th grade math teacher Frances Cafferty, who was the 2021 Governor’s Educator of the Year, sent in her letter of resignation, which included this:
Students are engaging in extremely violent activities. They are cutting class to roam the halls kicking doors so hard that pieces of the solid wood doors are breaking off in chunks. They are boxing, wrestling, running, stampeding and jumping on each other in the hallways as administrators are standing dead center of the hall.
After the stabbing last month, Paradiso said students “frequently” bring knives to school but teachers “are afraid to voice concerns out of fear of retaliation and that the school has too may vacant positions to be able to effectively educate of its students.”
The community has had enough. In just the last two weeks there has been a series of protests by students, parents, and residents, including a student walk-out and a rally at Perth Amboy City Hall Circle. Tomorrow, the day of the “public” board meeting, there will be two protests: one with parents at 10 am at the Board Office (see image below) and another at 5 pm right outside Perth Amboy High School before the meeting begins. I’ve been told students were preparing statements to read to the Board; because they won’t have that opportunity they’ll gather outside the high school. They are also doing their own research: here is a link to their short survey—Perth Amboy Voices of the Public / Perth Amboy Voces del Publico—that asks the public whether they agree with the district’s solution to put armed guards and metal detectors in schools.
Not that the Board seems very interested in the views of the public; as one teacher said, “so much for building those community relationships.” In fact, the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting includes new job descriptions for armed security guard, three new appointments for armed security guards (pending their concealed carry permits and corresponding handgun qualifications), a job description for “Manager of Security Personnel,” new policies for “Use of Metal Detectors,” and clarifications of policies for Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying, which include administrators’ responsibility for enforcement.
Also, another 15 teachers resigned from Perth Amboy Public Schools.