Westwood School Board Erupts: “Parental Rights Policy” vs. Student “Well-Being”

In a marathon Westwood School Board meeting that ended after 10 p.m., spirited debates erupted over parental rights, the decision to stop live-streaming meetings, and the district’s educational direction.

Central to the evening’s debates was a proposed “parental rights policy.” A board member described the policy as an effort to provide parents an “extra level of rights” to “protect children and the sanctity of the family.” The member emphasized the policy’s design to avoid potential conflicts with the Attorney General, noting that it aimed to stave off the “pretty tyrannical ire” of that office.

Board member Jay Garcia questioned the policy’s real intentions, probing, “What is the end goal?” An opposing board member warned that not adopting the policy might expose the district to “millions in damages” if a child were harmed.

This debate over parental rights also intersected with teacher contract negotiations. District teacher Dana Farinella accused the board of relying on “false and misleading information” about health standards when forming an ad-hoc committee.

Lourdes, a parent, expressed her strong stance, saying, “I don’t co-parent with the government and I surely don’t co-parent with any school.”

Contrastingly, Amara, a high school senior, voiced her exhaustion from the ongoing disputes. She described: “I sit here and I listen to people call my gender an ideology… call the teachers who have saved my life… fascists… groomers… Nazis,” stating that such public vitriol impacted her mental and emotional well-being. She accused the board of not adequately considering students’ needs and prioritizing their own political or religious beliefs.

Another attendee contested the term “parental rights,” suggesting it may be code for right-wing activists seeking to control school affairs, possibly at the expense of LGBTQ+ students. The attendee asked: “Is it your intent to out children who identify as LGBTQ?”

Sean Case, an educator and new resident of Westwood, expressed his initial excitement about moving to Westwood and its reputation for excellent schools. Sharing a personal anecdote, he recalled a past student who had confided in him about their sexuality, emphasizing the vital role of teachers in supporting students’ well-being and identity. “I believe these teachers want them to belong and should not out them to parents,” he stressed. Case also highlighted the importance of inclusivity, stating, “at what point has this country ever gotten better by demonizing or minimizing people?”

Superintendent Jill Mortimer responded defensively to these criticisms. “We deserve respect,” she insisted, also correcting the use of her first name, stating she should be called “Dr. Mortimer” because she has “earned degrees you could never achieve.”

The district’s choice to cease live-streaming meetings drew substantial critique. Though they vowed to upload recordings within 24 hours, several attendees, including board members, found the decision questionable.

Christine Murphy berated the board for the delay in renewing teachers’ contracts and their decision on live streaming. Loni Azzolina and Mr. Garcia highlighted perceived failures in the board’s governance, citing a lack of transparency, fairness, and accountability.

Beyond these central issues, attendees also voiced concerns over sudden changes to the middle school honors program and potential plans to expand Washington Elementary School.

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School Board Members:
Washington (Bergen)Westwood

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