In a recent Hackensack School Board meeting, board and community members convened to discuss the ongoing efforts to integrate African American history into the social studies curriculum, in line with a state mandate, and to address pressing scheduling issues at Hackensack Middle School.
Dr. Lauren Casmark and Mrs. Janice Asibo spearheaded the presentation on the district’s strides in complying with the Amistad mandate, a law enacted in 2002 requiring the incorporation of African American history into the social studies curriculum. The initiative, which began in 2017, saw the gradual inclusion of Amistad connections in each curriculum document, with specific units lasting 5-10 days being embedded in every curriculum unit for grades K-8 in the 2021-2022 academic year. The curriculum, described as a “living document,” promises to go “beyond that expectation” set by the state, infusing African American history not only in American history courses but also in world history courses, a move not mandated by the state.
The board emphasized the ongoing work to align the curriculum with the New Jersey Department of Education’s 2020 social studies standards, highlighting the collaborative efforts with the New Jersey Bar Association in training teachers and the envisioned community partnerships to enhance the curriculum further. Despite the progress, the board emphasized the necessity for community engagement and transparency in the curriculum development process.
Dr. Joy Dorsey Whiting, the principal at Hackensack Middle School, then addressed the ongoing scheduling crisis at the school. Dr. Whiting expressed regret for the impact on families and emphasized a commitment to transparency and resolution. She detailed efforts to maintain safety and compliance with regulations, including the addition of elective periods and support for special needs students. The superintendent, Robert Sanchez, acknowledged the unsuccessful implementation of the new schedule and appreciated the resilience of the middle school team during this challenging time.
The public comments section revealed a community grappling with the scheduling issues, with many criticizing the administration for not adequately preparing for the start of the school year. Concerns were raised about large gym classes and the non-receipt of services mandated by Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for special education students, potentially putting the school out of compliance and violating students’ rights. Despite the criticisms, some expressed faith in the school’s leadership to resolve the issue, urging the community to focus on solutions rather than assigning blame.
Board members, including Marlene Somerville and Demetrius Carroll, echoed sentiments of collaboration, urging everyone to “work together in times like this.” They acknowledged the challenges but highlighted the importance of “progression” and “moving forward.” The board members collectively voiced their commitment to addressing the concerns raised and ensuring the well-being of the students, encouraging more parents to attend the meetings to provide “new input.”