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Monday, June 8, 2015

Town Hall Meeting Regarding School Safety Held at Maplewood Middle School


Maplewood, New Jersey: South Orange Maplewood School District officials and other local leaders held a town hall-style meeting on Monday evening at Maplewood Middle School regarding recent incidents at two local schools.

Last Wednesday, a seventh grade student at Maplewood Middle School was arrested after he allegedly brought a loaded handgun to school. The following day, a ninth grade student at Columbia High School was arrested on charges of bringing a kitchen knife and airsoft gun to class. Both students are being held at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark's Central Ward.

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South Orange Maplewood Board of Education President Wayne Eastman told the hundreds of parents, students, teachers, community members, and members of the media who attended that the South Orange Maplewood School District was going through "difficult and trying times".

Acting Superintendent James Memoli, an employee of the South Orange Maplewood School District for over 40 years, said that the district is "determined to leave our house in order for the new superintendent". Memoli is retiring in June.

Maplewood's Mayor, Victor DeLuca, said that "Maplewood and South Orange are good communities", but added that the recent incidents at Maplewood Middle School and Columbia High School are a "community-wide concern".

"We should say 'no' to violence in this community", said DeLuca, who felt that "we have too many guns in our society".

According to DeLuca, the handgun that was allegedly brought to Maplewood Middle School by the student was "obtained in the home".

Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron told attendees that they "should all call Trenton" to discuss issues relating to school security.

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Parents of students at Columbia High School, Maplewood and South Orange Middle Schools, and Seth Boyden, Marshall, Jefferson, and Tuscan Elementary Schools spoke to the Board of Education about a variety of issues relating to the school district.

"It's been a rough week for our two towns", said one parent.

An alumnus of Columbia High School and a current twelfth grade student were among the speakers at the meeting.

The alumnus stated that when she was a student in the public schools of South Orange and Maplewood, there were a variety of programs to assist students that were believed to have been at-risk. According to South Orange Maplewood Board of Education member Johanna Wright, these programs have since been eliminated, and have been replaced by YouthNet programs.

"This is very upsetting to me", said Wright.

One parent praised the YouthNet programs, and said that they allowed her child to be employed at the South Orange Village Hall and the South Orange Public Library, and to become an intern at a local company.

A parent of a Maplewood Middle School student questioned the Board of Education on whether the recently-arrested seventh grade student would return to the South Orange Maplewood School District to attend Columbia High School in 2016. Several attendees asked the Board members for a response, however, the officials were unable to give a definitive answer at that time.

Other attendees brought up issues such as alleged bullying in the school system, residency of students, a moment of silence reportedly held at one school for Michael Brown, school suspensions, demographics of the Columbia High School staff compared to that of the student population, and whether metal detectors should be installed at schools.

Many members of the audience showed their disapproval for the idea of having metal detectors installed. None of the public schools in South Orange and Maplewood currently have metal detectors, although all schools are equipped with surveillance cameras. In addition, the District contracts with U.S. Security Associates for security staff at Columbia High School.

Regarding alleged bullying in the school system, one parent said that  "the bullying and HIB process doesn't work", referring to the system of reporting student harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

Another parent asked the South Orange Maplewood School District to hire a "director of Homeland Security for South Orange/Maplewood".


Maplewood Middle School's Principal, Jerrill Adams, praised the school's students. saying that "the vast majority of our students come to school excited, motivated, and ready to learn". 

Adams informed the audience that the school has issued 52 student suspensions so far this school year, and that of those 52 suspensions, 31 were accumulated by the same ten students.

Adams said that the remaining 96% of students "present no significant behavior problems whatsoever", and that on the day following the arrest of the seventh grade student, every staff member was present.

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Additional attendees included South Orange Middle School principal Joseph Uglialoro, South Orange Police Chief James Chelel, Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, Columbia High School Assistant Principal Charles Ezell, and all members of the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education.

Cimino informed attendees that the parent of the student who allegedly brought the handgun to Maplewood Middle School is facing charges.

This story will be updated.



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