In a contentious recent gathering of the Westwood School Board, sparks flew over contentious issues including the safety and recognition of LGBTQ+ students, the elimination of honors classes, and the recent spate of teacher departures.
Amid routine roll calls and reports, student achievements were celebrated as William Roche, an 11th-grade student, received the Dwight D. Eisenhower Leadership Award. However, the atmosphere shifted as the meeting addressed the sensitive topics of policy changes and school curriculum.
Reed Rodriguez, a transgender individual, eloquently voiced concerns about the school board’s perceived lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community. Rodriguez’s pleas echoed those of resident Mary Kate, who critiqued the board’s actions for not affirming the safety of LGBTQ+ students, citing worrisome Trevor Project data showing their significantly higher rates of bullying and suicide attempts. In a stirring moment, Ralph Passante, shared his own traumatic experiences as an openly gay student, urging the board to take decisive action.
These pleas were punctuated by a debate surrounding a symbol on a classroom door. An LGBTQ+ student expressed feeling safer due to this symbol’s presence, yet critics argued that signs should not impact students’ sense of safety. These critics’ dismissal of the symbol’s impact led one speaker to assert, “This district and elected board is creating severe emotional and social distress as part of the student population.”
Further contention arose around the decision to remove some honors classes from the curriculum. Mrs. Curry challenged this decision, suggesting it may compromise the quality of the education provided and could disproportionately affect girls, given the decreased emphasis on STEM education. Tom Hardin, another attendee, echoed her concerns, citing potential academic stagnation.
Intertwined with these debates, the meeting recognized various educators. The Board passed resolutions honoring the winners of the Governor’s Educator of the Year Program, including Julia Costa and Carrie Bender, and acknowledged retiring teachers like Lisa Breen and Rebecca Duda for their service.
Teacher departures were also a topic of concern. Several members of the school community shared heartfelt farewells and testimonials, highlighting the retirees’ positive impact on the district. Community members voiced concern over these departures and the work environment for educators, with some suggesting the need for exit interviews to understand teachers’ reasons for leaving.