SP-F Introduces Reopening Plan; Concerns Raised About Diversity Trainer


For The Leader/Times

SCOTCH PLAINS — At the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education meeting last Thursday, Superintendent Joan Mast, Ed.D., and other administrative staff introduced the district’s plan for reopening in September. Dr. Mast said the district “is in a good position” to reopen.

School will be open full time for all students, including lunch at all levels. Elementary and middle schools will continue with the current end-of-year schedules. High-school students will follow the current block schedule, but their lunch break will be incorporated into the middle of the day instead of this year’s end-of-day lunch.

The district will use different spaces, plastic barriers, or additional lunch periods if necessary to help students distance during lunch time, said Director of Human Resources Peter Pitucco. Mr. Pitucco also reported that physical distancing and masking requirements will adjust according to state guidance at the time. “Students will be provided intermittent mask breaks to allow for healthy respiration,” reported Mr. Pitucco.

Lisa Rebimbas, director of special services, said the district will continue to conduct daily screenings for students and staff for as long as it is “needed and necessary,” and accommodations will be made for those with special needs. Ms. Rebimbas also said quarantine procedures and contact tracing will continue.

“The district will continue to provide appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities in respect to the health and safety policies,” said Ms. Rebimbas.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Robert McGarry, Ed.D., said “social and emotional awareness and mental health is a big concern,” and that the district will continue its current efforts to help students, as well as implement new ways to support them.

Effective School Solutions will continue to provide “wrap-around” mental health services for students who need a high level of individual support, said Dr. McGarry. A recent partnership with Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care will provide the district with individual family and group counseling, crisis intervention, after-school programs and staff development, he added. End-of-summer programs also will be offered to help students who were learning completely remotely this past year or are struggling with anxiety about the full return, said Dr. McGarry.

Dr. McGarry also said Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing was used this year to assess student progress and will be used next year as well to assess student learning and adjust academic instruction accordingly.

Dr. Mast stated that the plan will be reviewed and revised every six months until September 2023, as a part of special funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The extra funding will help schools “prepare for and respond to the impacts of Covid-19,” she said.

Scotch Plains resident John Denning expressed his displeasure at the district’s decision to hire Dr. Khyati Y. Joshi for staff development and diversity training. Mr. Denning objected to Dr. Joshi’s book, “White Christian Privilege,” and a recent Twitter posting about Georgia Republicans. Mr. Denning said the choice to hire her “is not worthy of our school district.” Fanwood parent Camelia Trepca said the district paid $30,000 for this training and felt the money could have been spent elsewhere.

Two Scotch Plains parents who are a part of the REAL (Representation, Equality, Anti-Racism, and Literary Diversity) Parents SPF group spoke about the issue. Michelle Gonzalez said the group stands behind the board’s decision to bring Dr. Joshi in for diversity training. Sara August, one of the REAL parents who spoke, is a teacher in Millburn public schools and is being trained by Dr. Joshi. She feels that the training has been incredibly helpful in creating a more respectful and inclusive environment for students.

“Anti-bias training is important,” said Dr. Mast. She continued by saying the intent of the training with Dr. Joshi is for all families and students to feel the “same level of comfort in our school,” which some families have told Dr. Mast they do not. As for the tweet to which Mr. Denning referred, “we do not stand behind that statement,” said Dr. Mast, who spoke with Dr. Joshi and the board about it. Dr. Mast said she and the administrators have worked with Dr. Joshi and that she spoke with other districts and groups who have been trained by Dr. Joshi, and they stand behind her training. In the fall, there will be an open public parent forum with Dr. Joshi for anyone to attend.

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