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Lawmakers Call for NJ State Board of Education to Stop Hiding Behind Pandemic

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the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Trenton NJ, Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho and Senator Jean Stanfield blasted the State Board of Education for continuing to deny the public direct access to its meetings under the guise of “ongoing public health concerns.”

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“While the Legislature, local boards of education, and town councils are all back to regular in-person meetings without issue, the State Board of Education continues to use the pandemic as an excuse to meet virtually and limit public access,” said Oroho (R-24). “Parents want and deserve the opportunity to attend and participate in State Board of Education meetings where controversial policies that impact every student across New Jersey are considered and adopted. The only reason for the State Board to keep meeting virtually is to prevent parents from having a strong voice in the process.”

While other public bodies have resumed work in an open and transparent manner, the State Board of Education continues to hide behind specious pandemic policies that should have ended long ago.

The public notice for the State Board of Education’s last meeting on November 9, 2022, for example, advised that the meeting would be held virtually “due to ongoing public health concerns.” That boilerplate language has been included in every monthly meeting notice since the Board stopped in-person meetings in April of 2020.

Despite a lengthy agenda, the November virtual meeting notice bluntly stated “there are no topics scheduled for public testimony.” In months when testimony has been accepted, the Board has required it to be submitted in writing, with no option for concerned parties to speak directly to Board members.

Stanfield said the State Board of Education’s refusal to resume in-person meetings with the opportunity for direct public participation is why she introduced S-3299, legislation requiring all public meetings of the State Board of Education to be accessible to the public both in person and virtually. Oroho has joined Stanfield as a co-prime sponsor of the legislation.

The bill also requires that a link providing virtual access to meetings be publicly available on the State Board of Education’s website. For any meeting in which the State Board of Education accepts public comment, the bill stipulates that members of the public will be able to provide comments by means of remote communication.

“As someone who serves on legislative committees, I know that listening to people speak about their concerns in their own voices is much more impactful than getting a stack of printed emails with submitted testimony,” said Stanfield (R-8). “Interacting with people face to face also gives members serving on boards and committees the opportunity to engage with witnesses, ask questions, and learn more. Public testimony should help guide decision-making by policymakers, but too often it’s treated like a nuisance or an afterthought. That’s one of the many reasons the State Board of Education and every other public body needs to resume regular meetings with full public participation.”

The senators noted that the public notice for the State Board of Education’s December meeting is expected to be issued imminently. It remains to be seen if they will continue to hide from parents with another virtual hearing and no public testimony.

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