HVRSD BOE meeting details DEI work, encourages parent participation

Much of the May Hopewell Valley Regional School Board of Education meeting was business as usual, however a story published earlier in the day by NJ.com documenting a former student’s new allegations of sexual assault by a teacher raised comments and questions during public comment.

The main focus of the meeting was a presentation by Superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece on the history of the District’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. The many questions of parents and community members during past meetings about how the DEI curriculum is evolving prompted the presentation, according to Treece. She dated the District’s work on this front to 2014 and said the focus has been on creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for all students, not based just on race, but also neurodivergence, sexuality, and native language. 

“It’s about us looking at what practices we have in place that are blocking our students from getting to their full full capacity in their student career with us, and also to set them up for whatever they want to do once they leave us and enter the workforce or post secondary education,” she said.

Treece noted that the District has worked with education experts in evaluating data that demonstrates Black and Latinx boys are disproportionately more likely to be disciplined, placed at lower math and English levels, and receive failing grades.

“We didn’t just have this feeling that we needed to do the work. We had the data and the evidence to support the work that we needed to do,” she said.

Treece explained that, over the years, the District has made changes on many fronts to give students who are failing more opportunity to improve academically, from making the summer bridge program free, to changing how grades are calculated. The District also has eliminated honors courses at the elementary school and made science, technology, engineering, and math instruction available to all students.

Curriculum evaluation and racial literacy trainings also have been part of the work, with the District evaluating the diversity of books available in school libraries as well as those assigned in literature courses and ensuring that history lessons are more inclusive. Treece cited the eighth grade Witness Stones project as an example. She welcomed parents to learn more at the District’s upcoming curriculum night, which will be held on May 25 from 6pm to 8pm at the Central High School cafeteria. Parents who are interested in being more involved with inclusion efforts can join the DEI committee at their school by expressing interest to their principal. These committees are also helping recruit parents to provide input on how to implement updated state sexual education guidelines this fall.

During public comments, several community members requested such a committee while expressing concern about whether the topics being discussed would be age appropriate. Treece replied that there will be no discussion of sexual activities or sexuality at the elementary-school level, and that the parent committees will help ensure that the curriculum for higher grades “reflects our values.”

Earlier in the day, NJ.com had published an article detailing several alleged encounters in which a former student said teacher Mark Amantia had sexually assaulted her. One of the encounters became public in 2019 when the student, who is no longer enrolled in the District, filed an intent to sue the District.

“My question is, is that information correct? This gentleman, who’s been accused by several people over several years, continues to work for this school system, and I’d like to understand why that is,” Melissa Cookman of Hopewell Borough asked during public comments.

Treece said she could not say anything about the open case and ongoing investigations around the new allegations. 

“I can tell you that we take all accusations of sexual assault, abuse, or misconduct in our classrooms very seriously,” she said. “We report all of those to the authorities, and they are thoroughly investigated, as is the case with this one.”

The Board of Education also took several votes Monday evening. They unanimously approved updated policies around student intervention, suspension and expulsion as well as a new elementary-level math curriculum called Envision that will be rolled out over the next two school years.

For anyone interested in joining the School Board, the board election nominating period is now open. There are three spots available on the School Board — one from Hopewell Borough and two from Hopewell Township. Petitions are due July 25.

 

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Ambreen Ali
Ambreen Ali is a freelance reporter who lives in Hopewell Township with her husband and their three children. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Fortune Magazine, Agence France Presse, Edible Jersey and The Counter. Before moving to New Jersey she was a Congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call in Washington, DC, where her beats included tech policy and grassroots lobbying.

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