Last night’s Hoboken Board of Education meeting focused on moving on from the failed referendum on January 25th, as well as the future of school mask mandates in light of Gov. Murphy (D) announcing he’d be lifting them on March 7th.
The meeting appeared poised to head to public comment on agenda items after about 40 minutes of presenting student awards, which is par for the course.
However, Board President Sharyn Angley reminded those in attendance that the statewide school mask mandate remains in effect after seeing three people not wearing them.
“It’s a public meeting. Per the governor’s executive order and a notice from our county superintendent, everyone in attendance must keep their masks on throughout the meeting,” she said.
“It’s a public meeting and it’s in a public school district building: masks are required in every public school district meetings as of today and until a different decision is [made],” added Board Vice President Malani Cademartori.
After one of the three people began to shout at the board over enforcing the mandate, Board Counsel Vito Gagliardi also tried to maintain order.
“Sir, this is not a debate,” he said.
After he continued to yell out to the dismay of several other members of the audience, Angley called for another recess before a Hoboken police officer approached the non-compliant trio.
Eventually, they agreed to leave without any further disruptions, with the officer walking them out to some applause from the crowd.
Prior to public portion, Angley addressed the $241 million school referendum being voted down.
“The proposed new high school is one piece of the district’s long-range facilities plan to address actual and projected enrollment growth. While only 20 percent of the Hoboken community voted on January 25th, with the majority voting against the referendum, we’ve received valuable feedback from both supporters of the referendum and those not in favor of the referendum, which will help us plan for the road ahead,” she said.
“On the back of this, and to obtain even more feedback, the board will soon release a community feedback survey. Please keep an eye out for that. Since January 25th, we’ve all done a lot of reflecting and look forward to working together to satisfy the needs of our growing student population.”
While the plan was favored by the trustees and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson, it was voted down by a 2-1 margin, meaning the board will not be able to reintroduce a new plan until the beginning of next year.
During public comment, Josh Sotomayor Einstein called on the board trustees to resign for the way they handled the referendum and renewed his call for them to pass a measure requiring three public meetings before they agree to have a citywide vote on renovations.
Others who were a part of the vote no movement generally took a more conciliatory tone, such as Manny Solar Rivera, who unsuccessfully ran for a council-at-large seat in November.
“I would like to mention that moving forward, I believe that the board of education, board members, when you’re going to run in an election, you should have all the facts out to the public,” he said, calling for more public participation next time and urging the board not to take their cues from City Hall.
Paul Presinzano stated that their were no winners on January 25th and only lessons to be learned, such as transparency is paramount, community involvement is necessary, and that people with different ideologies can come together and work towards a common goal.
“In my recent reading, I came across a quote that is very fitting for where we sit today. It comes from Joseph Fort Newton. ‘Men build too many walls and not enough bridges,'” he recalled.
“I think it’s time we build a bridge and dismantle the wall we built over the past two months.”
A few speakers who supported the referendum also weighed in on what’s next, such as Antonio Grana, a local zoning board member and parent who chaired the Friends of the New Hoboken High School committee.
“All of us have had a chance to reflect from the election and while I personally am not happy with the result, with the outcome, it’s important for us to remember that the voting public did speak with their votes,” he began.
“And that process is at the very heart of the democracy that we so cherish. I think it’s important because there’s a range of feelings that did come up, there’s a range of feelings in this room,” Grana added, also thanking the board for their leadership and giving the referendum a try.
He also agreed that more communication and more community engagement would likely yield a better outcome for all next time around.
The Hoboken BOE has not decided what their next move will be as far as mask mandates go, with Murphy giving individual school districts the ability to make their own COVID-19 safety rules once the state mandate lapses.
Johnson sent an online survey to parents yesterday that is due today at noon and while the topic did not come up very much last night, even in light of the three people being asked to leave, at least one parent said the policy should stay.
Alex Garcia, who has two children in the district and one infant at home, rationalized that an exposure could occur at school and bring the virus home to his two-year-old.
“My kids are vaccinated, except for the youngest, the baby. And if an adult gives it to a vaccinated child, my kids, then the baby gets sick, she’s not vaccinated. That’s the reason I’m saying vote for the survey to keep the masks on,” he explained.
Ed Reep, a local resident who has opposed Hoboken’s indoor mask mandate (which ended today), argued that the Spanish Flu of 1918 necessitated mask wearing and that didn’t become common practice again for about another century – therefore it’s time to move on.
“This should be gone for about 100 years: no seasonal mask, no ‘oh there’s a COVID spike in the winter, let’s do masking every winter.’ Nope, nope, nope, nope. It’s gone, it’s endemic, it’s normal, just like the flue became endemic after 1918 – well it happened before that but.”
The board did not take any formal action on mask rules and regulations at the meeting.