In a charged East Rutherford School Board meeting, the continued debate over LGBTQ+ lessons in the district took center stage. In the wake of a meetings held in June and July, community divisions remained evident, with residents reiterating their concerns over the visibility and implications of LGBTQ+ lessons in schools.
At the heart of the discussion was a pride flag displayed in schools, which had sparked controversy in previous meetings. Several residents voiced their frustration, echoing sentiments from the previous meeting, where objections had been raised regarding the introduction and advocacy of LGBTQ+ topics within the district’s schools.
In her public comments, resident Maureen Kirchhoff argued it was inappropriate for young children, particularly her seven-year-old, to be exposed to the pride flag in school. “That banner stands for sexuality. It stands for nothing else,” she said, expressing the view that the flag undermined parents’ wishes, especially those who had opted their children out of related lessons.
Another parent also broached the topic of classroom lessons on LGBTQ+ issues. “Is my child going to know what it means to be a transsexual? Is my child going to understand what it means to be a bisexual?” she asked.
The parent said she found it challenging to locate specific details about this curriculum online, echoing similar sentiments from the previous meeting, where residents had raised questions about the age appropriateness of LGBTQ+ discussions and suspicions of external political motivations driving these topics.
Board members reminded attendees of the prior meeting, held over a year ago, in which parents were informed about the state-mandated curriculum changes, including explanations about what would be taught at each grade level. One member emphasized that parents could opt out of certain lessons.
Addressing concerns over the pride flag’s presence, the board president stated, “I’ve said since the first meeting that the buck stops with me.”
Board members referenced guidance from the Attorney General’s office that prohibited the removal of pride flags from schools. The board president further highlighted the restrictions placed on the board by Bergen County and the state Department of Education, stating “There are levels above us. And when we talk about our hands being tied, they’re tied by the levels above us.”
The distinction between personal beliefs and board responsibilities was a significant point of the discussion, as had been the case in the previous meeting. The board president emphasized that when they act as board members, they are governed by New Jersey standards and often have to set personal beliefs aside.
Board member Richard Vartan confessed his lack of understanding about LGBTQ+ issues, stating, “I’m 88 years old, and I don’t understand. I don’t even know what those things stand for. I’m serious. I’m going to tell you something. I don’t want to.”
Before adjourning the meeting, board members discussed the process surrounding letters of intent for candidates interested in serving on the school board, due by September 8. The board concluded that interviews could be held on the 21st, and decisions made by the 28th, provided applications were received.