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Last night Perth Amboy Superintendent David Roman and School Board president Stacey Peralta sent a letter to the entire school community regarding this past week’s uproar over uncontrolled student behavior and incidents of violence, including the stabbing of a fifth-grader right after dismissal from Shull Middle School when a sixth-grader with a kitchen knife followed him off school grounds. (Teachers at Shull say it’s not unusual for the 5th-8th grade students to carry weapons.) Many news outlets–including those outside New Jersey–have covered this week’s protests by Perth Amboy High School students, parents, teachers, and residents.
Roman and Peralta write,
Our school community has been continuously under attack, even though the incident did not occur on school grounds or under school supervision. Unfounded and irresponsible accusations were made to the media and traveled through countless social media accounts. Our students were mischaracterized, mislabeled, and manipulated.
Oddly, they put the blame solely on the local teachers union, Perth Amboy Federation of Teachers (PA-AFT), claiming leaders “encouraged our students to walk out of school in violation of school rules into a situation that potentially compromised their safety.”
They then announce a series of actions the district will take to protect students and staff members: arming security guards, installing metal detectors, searching backpacks, installing security cameras, training staff on enforcing discipline, working with the city police department, and “expanding the role of the existing School Climate Team at each building to include addressing discipline, restorative justice and school concerns.”
Some of these actions require collaboration with the union because security guards are union members but, they say in boldface and all capital letters, “THE PA-AFT NEVER RESPONDED TO THE DISTRICT’S REQUEST TO NEGOTIATE A STIPEND FOR ARMING SEVERAL SECURITY GUARDS.”
Union leaders responded swiftly with this:
The last news release by the Superintendent and Board President seems a little unhinged. Our high school students are amazing and are clearly capable of planning a walkout on their own. As a union, we believe everyone should be able to lift their voices and express their concerns over safety. We loved that our high schoolers were that concerned about the students at Shull School. That is what school community is really about.
We requested metal detectors months ago because of the prevalence of knives in the schools. We are glad the district will be investing in them.
Employing armed guards is the district’s decision. They will be working to prevent mostly outside threats. Our current security staff will still be securing students and staff in normal day-to-day operations.
To say we have not responded to requests to negotiate over armed guards is flat out false. As usual, we are waiting for information from the district. We have been operating under an expired contract since June 30th, 2021. It is the district that has not made negotiating our contract a priority. We will come to the table any day, and any time.
We are grateful that the Superintendent and Board President think that the Perth Amboy Federation is the most powerful entity in the district. They love to blame us for everything.