The following column appeared in The Ridgewood News on November 24, 2017.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
It’s been quite a month in our idyllic community. Faced with the fallout from a serious student incident that occurred on district property after school hours, our Village has been challenged to ponder some equally serious questions. How is that Ridgewood children chose to resolve their issues with serious physical violence rather than civil mediation? Why did bystanders feel motivated to record the incident rather than rush to intervene? What part did social media play in fueling the dispute and shaping the community’s reactions, rumors, rants and pointing of fingers?
Importantly, too: With the investigation now completed and behind us, where do we go from here? How can this incident be used as an opportunity to do better?
We are asking all of those questions at the school district level, starting by examining our student policies, as you already have heard us say. I invite you to look at the policies, especially 5512, which covers Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying, and also 5600, our Student Discipline Code of Conduct. The policies, which also detail how often they are revised, may be found on our website at www.ridgewood.k12.nj.us.
As important as the policies are, to a large extent examining them is the not-so-difficult part of the task ahead. I say this because policies are generally rules for dealing with the aftermath of incidents or instructions in how to do certain things, and we are equally intent on finding ways to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place.
Equally important is the need for all of us as individuals, as parents and guardians, mentors and coaches, residents and neighbors, to ask the above questions of ourselves. Such incidents challenge us to examine our own personal policies and behaviors, to look at how we can do better at modeling the behaviors we want our children to adopt as they grow into mature adults and assume the responsibilities as our society’s leaders of tomorrow.
For the most part, I think it’s fair to pat ourselves on the back. We do a terrific job in this community of raising responsible kids, and that is because we really are good people ourselves. We clearly have big hearts that are in the right place, proven by the endless list of ways we teach our children to try to make a difference. The full coin jars for hurricane relief, overflowing shoe collections for the needy, piles of coats and bags of groceries that are regularly collected, successful Pink Outs and Pajama Days for worthy causes, all point to the success of our parents and guardians, our teachers and administrators, in modeling strong values that align with Thanks and Giving, a favorite theme of mine and so many others at this time of year.
So how is it that a community so good at doing Thanks and Giving is facing such difficult questions at the moment? While I do not have that answer, nor the answers to the other challenging questions above, I will suggest that just as Thanks and Giving are important to our health and wellbeing as individuals and members of society, the practice of for-giving is vital, too.
Forgiveness. It takes humbleness and swallowing of pride and can be difficult. But as we know, forgiveness is also a very cathartic act, as well as the foundation for reconciliation, which is why we teach our children to say they are sorry from their earliest days.
At this time of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the magical holiday season when there is always much talk about counting our blessings and peace on earth, I’d like to encourage us all to think about forgiveness, too. It just may help us move forward, to grapple as a community with our issues in an honest and loving way.
I maintain hope that this incident and our reflections together will result in shaping us into even worthier citizens, an even stronger community, and yes, ultimately a better world that lives in peace.
Go Cowboys! And remember the Kelly Creegan Foundation’s annual Coat Drive this Saturday at Graydon parking lot!
As always, please feel free to contact me with your questions or concerns.
Daniel Fishbein, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools