The hidden power we have to take back our schools.

By Gay Brandeal

Just supposing that you are confused or discouraged about a recent decision made in a NJ school system which affects your child’s safety or constitutional rights. Perhaps, it is concerning gender bathroom rules, the imposition of religious practices during a school day or did you read about the ability of many high school students to unblock sites which the school has deemed unacceptable on those daily used Chromebooks? What should one do? Well, there is the well-placed phone call to the superintendent, principal or teacher regarding the concern and an email to the board of education president as well asking some pointed questions regarding the point of disagreement. But can a parent do more? And speaking of the board of education do you know much about the state system which is in place for electing board members in NJ? The law states that every third Tuesday in April or during the fall general election (which is held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) there should be an annual school board election. The purpose of this election is to submit a proposal to voters for the approval of additional funds, for electing board members or for other educational purposes or immediate needs for the coming year. All school elections are held by ballot and should be conducted in the same manner as a general election. Certain specific laws govern the withdrawal of a candidate’s name prior to an election. Names are drawn by the secretary to the board of education following the last day for filing and are positioned on the ballot in the order drawn. No political party designation should accompany the name of that individual running for the board.

But Alas! Here is the new law (S868) which may influence your decision to run for your local school board. No more than a one to three word designation summarizing a theme on which bracketed candidates could choose to run is now allowed as of 2019. For example, if Mrs. Jones, Mr. Ortega and Ms. Patel are all concerned about the safety of their school aged children they may be bracketed as “Safety First” candidates during the local school board election. Having circulated a petition summarizing their focus the candidates provide voters with information on certain issues. They would vote as a block in the coming decisions therefore providing more strength for that stand. The names of those “bracketed” together after a petition had been circulated gathering the names would appear together although the order on the ballot would be chosen by the bracketed group not the board secretary. 

Serving on the school board requires a strong desire to provide the best education for local children. The study of issues, dedicated time, teamwork, knowledge of the law and people skills should be pre requisites for certain. Hopefully, people of integrity with motives to protect children and improve the educational milieu would be interested in serving. Consider for a moment the decisions which consistently lie in the hands of NJ board of education members in various cities and towns in the Garden State. In recent years LGBTQ rights as well as Chromebook safety issues have arisen in our state as well as questions about mandated religious practices being allowed within the school day. It is the local Board of Education members who wield the power to decide what will or will not be allowed in that particular school system. Should there be less revisionist history allowed or what bathroom and locker room rules will be altered to meet the perceived rights of a small group of students? What actually  happens to those Chromebooks at the end of the school year? How well are they scrubbed and can someone still hack into your child’s personal information from the previous year? What policies on bullying and discipline are put into practice and what power does the principal or superintendent really have to enforce them?? The board of education is in charge. The board closely monitors the use and distribution of monies and adopts curriculum changes which can completely alter what and how children are taught. Many parents and guardians are discouraged, confused or absolutely dissatisfied with their local public school system. Many are completely thrilled and are pleased at how their child’s academic and social needs are being met. Whatever your opinion is about the quality of your local schools be aware that the real power resides in the decisions made by your board of education members. It is this powerful board which initiates or stops new programs and policies which inevitably affect your child. Consider your desire to provide your child with the best public education possible in NJ and ponder whether you or a family member or friend would be an asset to the local board of education. Then consider what common ideas could be the foundation of those who are bracketed together with shared values. Is your child’s academic future worth the investment of your time and talent by running for your local board of education? Only you can answer.   

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Gay Brandeal is a retired New Jersey educator from Morris County.