Thanks to the prior poster. But let me make this clear, my wife will NOT lose her job no matter what is the fate of elementary school language program.
MY ISSUE IS FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS.
Here is a copy of an e-mail I sent the Board and Administration this evening:
As you are aware, last Monday, March 9th, I spoke of Mrs. Regina Botsford’s behavior in dissuading the World Language Department Chairperson, Joan Lipkowitz, from attending that night’s meeting, and through her, dissuading numerous High School language teachers from coming to that meeting. Whether her behavior was intentional or not I cannot say, only she can answer that. The fact remains that language department personnel were not present because they felt intimidated.
During the week I had email correspondences with Mr. Vallerini. In one of these correspondences, he wrote “I believe fully that anyone has the right to speak, but I know that others do not agree with my perspective. Clearly this is an issue that is under the control of the superintendent.”
Mr. Vallerini concedes that there is internal disagreement about freedom of speech in this forum. I urge any Board members who believe that Ridgewood Schools’ personnel do not have the right to attend and speak at public meetings to reconsider their positions. It’s my opinion that under the First Amendment neither the Board, nor the Superintendent, nor any of his staff have the right to limit attendance at public Board meetings.
At another point in this correspondence, Mr. Vallerini wrote, “Please understand that the Board has no authority or ability to direct the superintendent about how to handle this. That’s his job. Ours is to assess his performance in his job.”
According to the district’s web page titled “About the Board/FAQ” it states that among the Board’s roles are “Setting district policies and goals.” One of these goals is surely to insure that all federal and state laws are complied with. Dr Fishbein is in effect the CEO of the school system, but that certainly does not give him the right to ignore the laws and Constitutions of New Jersey and the United States. He must not allow his Assistant Superintendent to create the impression, intentional or accidental, that employees cannot attend, nor speak at any public meeting. Such a prohibition would be, I believe a clear violation of the First Amendment.
On Friday March 13th, I met with the Superintendent in his office at his invitation to discuss the concerns I raised at the meeting on the 9th. I proposed that the he issue a memo clarifying that all school system employees have the right to attend and speak and are welcome at all public Board meetings. This would incur neither expense nor loss of face. Immediately, he rejected this proposal. He stated that this problem was cause by others, who I took to be Mrs. Lipkowitz, who seems to be the designated scapegoat. He indicated that she must handle any “miscommunication” she had started. This was her problem and she must clean it up. This was disappointing; I sought and continue to seek, leadership, not bureaucratic finger pointing.
Later in the day, there was a letter from Dr. Fishbein stating “I spoke with Mrs. Botsford and she reported to me that no one was told they must not attend the Board meeting nor was there any discussion of what would happen if someone did attend the meeting.” This explanation was both perfunctory and unsatisfactory.
Both Mr. Vallerini and Dr. Fishbein have indicted they support teacher’s First Amendment rights. What I ask for are meaningful steps to reassure teachers and other staff, in writing, that their First Amendment rights are respected by the Board and the administration, so that we can avoid this kind of miscommunication in the future.