Westwood School Board Grapples with Policy Changes and Legal Opinion Debates

In a recent Westwood School Board meeting, members engaged in discussions over educational policy changes, the process for seeking legal opinions, and the implementation of health curriculum standards. The meeting was marked by a series of debates that underscored the complex dynamics at play within the board, reflecting differing viewpoints on curriculum content, policy necessity, and communication strategies.

During the public forum, Karina Fox expressed concern regarding misinformation about Policy 5756, which addresses transgender students. Superintendent Jill Mortimer clarified that the board does not have the authority to change rules regarding bathrooms, changing facilities, and sports. The discussion around Policy 5756 sparked debate over parental exclusion from the policy and the need for additional legal opinion. Board President Heather Perin’s attempt to move the discussion forward led to confusion about Robert’s Rules of Order, which governs the conduct of the meeting.

A debate ensued regarding the introduction of additional health lessons for fifth graders. Kristen Pedersen opposed the content, questioning its age-appropriateness and how parents would be informed. Loni Azzolina and Andrea Peck defended the curriculum, emphasizing compliance with state requirements and professional handling by teachers. Laura Cooper raised concerns about the necessity of reinstating the standard and the board’s decision-making process.

Controversy also arose over the proposed abolition of Policy 9244, concerning parental notification of student behaviors indicative of anxiety or depression. Pedersen sought clarification on the rationale behind the changes, while Mortimer pointed out that existing policies covered parental notification.

Douglas Cusato expressed frustration over a perceived lack of clarity and responsiveness to board members’ questions, reflecting broader concerns about transparency and communication within the board.

The meeting also recognized retiring staff members Frank D. Pasquali, Rosemary Fox, and Linda Tracy, and congratulated 11th-grade student Kaitlin Bril for earning the rank of Eagle Scout.

The board addressed the ongoing superintendent search process, with updates on interviewing candidates for the position. Additionally, progress was reported in negotiations with the teachers’ union.

Furthermore, the board debated the authorization of an alternative designated member to seek legal services or advice. The discussion centered on the interpretation of board policy 0174, with some members advocating for seeking a second legal opinion. Pedersen made a motion for one-third support to designate another member to seek legal advice, which led to a back-and-forth about the necessity and potential costs of such action. The debate culminated with a call for a roll call to confirm support for designating an alternative member.

The meeting concluded without a clear resolution on the motion to seek an alternate legal opinion. Concerns were raised about the leadership and decision-making process of the board, with Pedersen proposing seeking alternate legal counsel to review the actions of the board president and vice president. Jason Garcia defended the process, stating that he sought advice from the board’s attorney and shared responses with the board.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Jill Mortimer
School Board Officials:
Jason Garcia, Andrea Peck, Loni Azzolina, Laura Cooper, Douglas Cusato, Nicole Martin, Kristen Pedersen, Heather Perin, Jorge Pertuz, Frank Connelly, Bronwen Calderon (Director of Secondary Education), Denise Velez (Director of Elementary Education), Keith A. Rosado, Glen Becker (Director of Buildings & Grounds), Shelley LaForgia

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