Parents wishing to express concerns over the size of their child’s kindergarten class sat for more than four hours in Montclair High School’s auditorium Monday night to get their turn at the podium.
That's unfair to the parents, as well as the board, according to Montclair Board of Education Vice President Shelly Lombard who supports recent changes to the agenda.
The teachers union and parent-teacher association presidents were removed from the agenda starting this week, and the public comments section was split into two periods, a 30-minute period for comment on agenda items and an unlimited period for comment on non-agenda items. During both periods, comments would be limited to three minutes.
Lombard said she rejects accusations that she's trying to get home early or limit free speech. But dealing with serious issues five-hours into a meeting, she said, is not ideal.
An eight-year member of the board and former board president, Lombard said the Montclair Teachers Association (MEA) has been included on the agenda as a “courtesy”.
“It had gotten to the point where people were abusing this courtesy,” Lombard said after the meeting went into the early hours Tuesday.
“The conversation has been dominated by one voice and while the MEA is important in Montclair, it’s not the only voice,” Lombard said.
The teachers union has been a part of the agenda for what many recall as decades, and the union chief, teachers and some members of the community were outraged by the abrupt change.
"The most discouraging aspect about the Board’s decision to remove the MEA from the Public Meeting Agenda, is that it is yet another attack on the longstanding culture of our town that celebrates collaboration," MEA President Gayl Shepard said Monday in her remarks.
Board President Robin Kulwin released a statement Tuesday in which she said the reasons for the changes are not just about allowing time for the board to get its business done, but also about improving the climate of the meetings so they are less intimidating to parents.
“Over the last 18 months, I have received increasing complaints that the behavior of the MEA at BOE meetings is intimidating to non-MEA members; that parents are uncomfortable to speak at BOE meetings; and that parents are worried to speak in favor of positions opposed by the MEA,” Kulwin said.
Both Kulwin and Lombard said parents may be reluctant to comment due to fear of retaliation against their children.