Residents speak out at BOE meetings


Photo by Joshua Sacher

BOE meeting at WHS on Oct. 5

On Sep. 21, the Westfield BOE met for their bi-monthly meeting, the first one of the 2021-2022 school year. As these meetings are open for public comment, residents took the floor to speak about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), school mask mandates and the Edison School Multipurpose Fields Project (see page 3 for more details on the project). 

Governor Phil Murphy passed Bill A4554 on Mar. 1 mandating all school districts to incorporate “diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities and religious tolerance.”  

The community was eager to discuss DEI within the district and there were arguments made on both sides. Some residents argued that the district should steer away from teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) in general, while others praised the school for incorporating DEI into the curriculum. 

One Westfield resident in favor of including CRT in the curriculum stated, “We want our students to look critically at history, society [and] contemporary issues, with a lens that is wider than their own small experience. It is important that our students learn about the history and perspectives of racially marginalized people to have a more complete picture of our country. To be able to look at a situation through the eyes of others is a skill that will serve our students well throughout their lives. Our students deserve an honest education about race.” 

From a different perspective, another parent said, “We are going to be the thorn in your heels until you start demanding the one-sided indoctrination of our innocent, minor children be removed from our schools. I’d rather die on this hill alone than allow my innocent, minor child to be corrupted by predators. You’re predators. Stop targeting our children.” 

Mask mandates in Westfield schools was also a topic that received attention at the meeting. One parent in support of the mask mandate, which was ordered by Governor Murphy, said that “children under 12 cannot be vaccinated so masks are the only way we can keep them safe and protected from COVID in school.” 

On the contrary, another parent said, “The decision to mask students carries with it potential academic and social harms for children and may lack clear benefit.” 

Furthermore, parents took to voicing their concerns regarding discrimination, isolation and segregation by vaccination statuses in the context of school-related affairs. One parent claimed the ambiguity of the quarantine guidelines was an attempt to divide the community even further.

On Oct. 5, the BOE met again to discuss many of the topics addressed by the public from the previous meeting. During the time allotted for public opinions, parents did address similar topics from the previous meeting, but the focus of this meeting was mostly aimed at the book, Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race, which was introduced to kindergarteners at Lincoln School. Multiple parents were in agreement that this book is not age-appropriate for young children.

 After numerous complaints pertaining to the book, the district reviewed the reading and decided it should be kept as a resource to teach children about diversity within an approved context of a lesson. 

Speaking on behalf of the administration’s stance on including the text in the curriculum, Superintendent Dr. Raymond González emphasized the importance of educating “all students to reach their highest potential…as citizens who respect diversity in an inclusive world.” 

While these topics are sensitive, he assured the public that they are taught in good faith with good intentions, as mandated by the state’s DEI incorporation into curricula. Dr. González also affirmed that this subject matter does not take away from the core academics taught in the classroom. 

Similar to the previous meeting, residents shared their thoughts on these issues among others in the three-hour long public forum. 

Recognizing the BOE meetings offer a time for the community to raise concerns and comment on current events pertaining to the school system. Dr. González told Hi’s Eye, “While we have experienced a variety of unique challenges this past year, I sincerely welcome the diverse perspectives shared during our public Board of Education meetings. I am confident that the academic, physical and emotional well-being of our students is a common goal that we all share. As always, when reaching out with any concerns, I ask that everyone in the school community do so respectfully and that parents bring specific concerns first to the classroom and school levels to address them directly.”

Westfield residents who are interested in attending the next BOE meeting can do so on Oct. 19 at 7:00 p.m. in Cafeteria B at WHS.