In a recent Ramapo-Indian Hills School Board meeting, the pending departure of Superintendent Rui Dionisio stirred controversy and led members of the public to cast doubts over the board’s ability to lead the district. As the search for a new superintendent stalled amid multiple tabled motions and board dissatisfaction, debates over curriculum changes, specifically regarding diversity and LGBTQ+ topics, also took center stage.
Dionisio’s impending departure, effective November 12, seemed to overshadow many other items on the agenda. Though some board members took the time to appreciate his efforts, calling him an “educational visionary,” a member of the public attributed his resignation to the board’s behavior. Multiple motions to table items related to the superintendent search were passed, limiting immediate options for filling the role.
Board members expressed dissatisfaction with the process, even confusion, with one stating, “Why we’re not following [the County Superintendent’s] advice just doesn’t make sense.”
Curriculum changes also came under sharp focus, with Director Elizabeth McDermott emphasizing the curriculum’s role in setting community expectations and teaching standards. New state laws were integrated into the curriculum, including those on diversity, LGBTQ+, and disability history.
However, one board member criticized the curriculum for being disproportionately focused on LGBTQ+ topics compared to other marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities.
Community member Victoria Surgeon, introducing herself as a leader of “Gays Against Groomers” criticized the district for the inclusive lesson plans. “I was horrified when I was made aware of what’s going on in our school district,” she said. Surgeon mentioned a lesson where students had to read out what she suggested was sexually explicit text and questioned the board’s priorities as failing test scores are seemingly being ignored. “In 2022, an astonishing 60.6% of New Jersey students failed the ELA section of the NJ GPA field test. 50% were not graduation ready for mathematics,” she stated.
However, Liz Carletta, a former teacher, applauded the board’s curriculum and encouraged them to take the superintendent search seriously. Nicole Check, an alumnus of the district, praised the diversity of the curriculum, saying it prepared her for future academic and career success.
The meeting also highlighted tensions regarding procedural matters, such as compliance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the board’s adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order. Some board members were criticized for not attending prior meetings and for acting more on individual opinions than in the community’s interest, marking an “ugly” atmosphere fraught with infighting, as one member of the public put it during public comments.