Advocacy group Jersey City Together is blasting the board of education for failing “to meaningfully address the mental health crisis” in the district last night during a week where a 16-year-old was shot dead and one student was arrested for social media threats.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Last night, the board of education failed to meaningfully address the mental health crisis that is unfolding in our schools. We urgently need our district to provide culturally and trauma-informed mental health clinicians to help support our children in the school settings so that they can stop living in fear,” JCT parent leaders and social workers Jessica Taube and Divya Dodhia said in a statement.
“The district has squandered precious time to implement items in its own budget that could help our city’s most vulnerable who are not only dealing with the effects if COVID but the ongoing sustained trauma of gun violence; resources like the ‘Tiger’s Den’ in every high school and mental health counselors embedded in every school. The district budgeted for this back in March but we have yet to see the investment now in December.”
Their remarks follow a six-hour meeting where public comment lasted around 90 minutes, with about half of those remarks congratulating outgoing Trustees Marilyn Roman, Joan Terrell-Paige, and Mussab Ali – the current board president – along with retiring Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker.
This came after about an hour of the meeting was spent on the board themselves recognizing the four outgoing officials.
The hybrid meeting, which streamed live on Zoom, only took public comments from those attending in person.
Leaders with JCT said they had dozens of people signed up to speak about the board’s decision to terminate their $3 million contract with Reimagined Mind Counseling and Consultation last month.
“This contractor did not have people who were getting tested or vaccinated, along with questionable information about background checks. We were also being charged for services that weren’t being rendered,” Ali told HCV over the phone.
“It’s a company with one or two people who then seemed to hire people off the street to fulfill the terms of the contract. Our students deserve better than that.”
He said that the procurement and request for proposals process is already underway and the district is hoping to hire a new vendor by the end of January.
As far as for why the public comment session went the way it did, Ali pointed out that district rules indicate that meetings must end by midnight, and given that it was the last meeting of the year, it was going to be difficult to fit everything into that window.
“We tried our best to try to accommodate everybody we could, but we’re going to give those in person a priority. Unfortunately we just didn’t have the time we wanted,” he said.
The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office revealed the victim of a fatal morning shooting at O’LaLa Empanadas yesterday was 16-year-old Pedro Rodriguez, as HCV first reported. He was a Snyder High School student and the district did not acknowledge his passing last night.
The other notable incident in a tense week is a 16-year-old girl being charged with false public alarm and two counts of making terroristic threats over a social media post threatening Egyptian students.
A second incident was investigated but turned out to be connected to New Brunswick.
“The reality is that we can’t take any threat, even if it’s anonymous, we take it extremely seriously … We’re doing our own research and making sure everyone feels safe,” Ali explained.
While the incident was not addressed at the meeting, Walker acknowledged it in a letter to parents.
“The authorities and school personnel are aware and remain vigilant. Anyone who sees something suspicious is asked to report it to the police. Indeed, as we turn to the holidays, there is cause for gratitude,” he wrote.
“Still, whenever criminality enters our school, it reminds us of the challenges and opportunities before us. As parents and educators, we will teach our students to think critically and become global citizens focused on positively impacting the future.”