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This op-ed is by a member of the Freehold Regional High School District community who wishes to remain anonymous.
These last two week have been meaningful to many families and children across the state. Students from different school districts celebrate their hard work as they culminate their high school journey, making their families, parents, and/or guardians proud of this incredible achievement. Unfortunately, this was not the case for some students at Colts Neck High School, part of the Freehold Regional High School District, the largest high school district in the state. Colts Neck High School, as a magnet school, hosts students from different municipalities and is home to the Law and Public Service Magnet Program, the Naval Junior ROTC Magnet Program, and and an English Language Learners (ELL) Program. With over 200 students in the ELL Program at Colts Neck High School coming from different countries and cultural backgrounds, the school and administration are highly aware of the rich diversity each student brings to the community.
Last week at Colts Neck High School, principal Dr. Brian Donahue made it clear to all seniors before they walked outside to graduate that it was strictly prohibited to wear academic stoles representing their cultural background and/or countries as it is “not school issued,” despite the fact that the school is designed to host students from different countries. Some students were in tears sharing the news with their parents who were waiting in the crowd to see their children graduate. The sense of belonging, pride, and happiness was lost for many students who wanted to thank their parents who had left their country behind by wearing something that was supposed to show them that their sacrifice was not in vain. All students had the approval to design their caps, showing off where they are heading after high school, or what they are proud of. Why not let students embrace their heritage at an important moment of their lives with a stole? Students are already sharing their frustration on social media, but are they going against the school’s vision or policy?
Dr. Donahue was able to wear his doctoral cap and gown from Rowan University at the Colts Neck High School graduation (not school-issued). We are all sure that those colors and stripes represent his pride in what’s he has accomplished, but why not his students can feel the same sense of pride?
This year the district released its five-year strategic plan under Dr. Charles Sampson’s leadership, and one of the action plans is “Community Connections.” It says, “Maintain an environment that encourages feelings of belonging, ownership, collaboration, and connection”.Didn’t the Colts Neck High School administrative team fail to meet that objective?
What about the district mission? “The schools of the Freehold Regional High School District form a diverse and supportive community offering innovative and comprehensive programs that inspire students to maximize their potential, preparing them to navigate an evolving global society.” Did Dr. Donahue forget the mission of the school district? Some parents tried to talk to the principal before the ceremony as their children were texting them that their regalia was prohibited but, unfortunately, they spoke a different language. Where are the “Community Connection
As a member of the Freehold Regional High School District community, this is something that it has to be addressed. Unfortunately, the more children are silenced because they speak a different language, have different backgrounds and/or different races, the less sense of belonging we create for them. As a diverse community, we need to embrace their rich backgrounds where we all can learn from each other, and grow together. What would Dr. Sampson do to address this issue before he leaves in November? Was regalia also prohibited at the other five different high schools? How is the representative of diverse educators in each of the schools? A senior said that the school was doing “Equity Dialogues” but are these dialogues being used? Most importantly, are the people in charge listening?