Gloucester Township education board hosts reorganization meeting

Following swearing-ins, members discuss athletic competition policy

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun

The Gloucester Township Public Schools Board of Education hosted its annual reorganization session on Jan. 4, swearing in three board members to new three-year terms.

In the November election, Mary Ann Johnson and Mary Jo Dintino were both reelected to the board, receiving 11,951 and 11,145 votes respectively, while Ellen Reese was elected to the board after receiving 10,948 votes. Reese had previously served with the board before leaving years ago.

Solicitor Dan Long swore in the new members during the virtual session. Following that,  the board took nominations for president and vice president. Member Anthony Marks nominated Mary Jo Dintino to once again serve as president, while member Jennifer O’Donnell nominated Mary Ann Johnson. The board ultimately voted 6-3 in favor of Dintino.

Member Brian Hammell then nominated Anthony Marks to serve as vice president, while Ellen Reese nominated Jennifer O’Donnell. The board voted 6-3 in favor of Marks.

Later in the meeting, the board continued its reorganization by voting for a consent agenda to reaffirm all existing policies, actions, rules and regulations in effect prior to the session, something that must be done at each reorganization because existing statutes must be approved each year.

The topic reignited a question the board previously discussed during its December meeting, when O’Donnell questioned the necessity of a school policy called Athletic Competition that prohibits home-schooled children in grades six through eight from participating in athletic programs at area schools.

During that December session, O’Donnell questioned how the policy “benefits the children in the district” and how it “benefits the district” by enacting the policy.

Superintendent John Bilodeau provided certain hypotheticals as to why reversing the policy would still involve difficult issues for home-schooled children who want to participate in athletic competition through the district, issues such as transportation and family decisions not to follow certain vaccine sequences.

Bilodeau said the policy has continued in the district for many years. Regardless, O’Donnell stated she does not see its benefit.

“If having shots are a requirement for them to play sports, by all means if their parents don’t want them to get those shots, then of course that would exclude them,” she said. “But this policy just doesn’t sit well with me; I think we’re excluding tax-paying people from the township that could benefit not only from our sports teams but also our extracurricular activities.”

Ultimately, the board voted 6-3 against the policy during the December meeting, though a vote during its recent reorganization meeting to readopt existing policies, actions, rules and regulations still contains language from the existing policy that prohibits home-schooled children from the relevant athletic events. The board voted 7-1 in favor of readopting its existing policies, with O’Donnell voting no and Reese abstaining. But the board discussed bringing the issue back to its policy committee in an attempt to rework it.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25, a virtual session that will  start at 7 p.m.