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Superintendent addresses racially motivated incidents

District bathrooms to be replaced in the next two summers

 (EMILY LIU/The Sun)

At the recent board of education meeting, Haddonfield Superintendent Chuck Klaus used two  racially motivated incidents in the borough as an opportunity to reevaluate training and support for all students who are school ambassadors. 

A May 10 incident involved a white Haddonfield Memorial High School boys baseball player who allegedly taunted a black player from the opposing West Deptford team by making what were described as “monkey sounds.” 

Last month, two members of the Haddonfield Friends Meeting discovered swastikas on two trees at a cemetery across from the Haddonfield Friends School.

“Sometimes we stumble, but sometimes we fall,” Klaus said. “When we have hurtful things happening from people in our community, especially dealing with race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation – that’s a real fall. You can’t deny it. It’s not acceptable.

“It’s something we have to put an end to as best we can.”

Klaus wants the enhanced training and support to begin with athletes, who make up a large percentage of the student body and have the most interaction with other schools. Rather than a top-down approach, he hopes to hear directly from students and coaches about what they feel they need to learn, then develop a task force and action team made up of kids, parents, administrators, coaches and residents to verify the support and training works.

“What we talk about (when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion) is this idea of developing awareness about how something we say might impact another,” Board President Jaime Grookett noted.

During his report, Assistant Superintendent Gino Priolo discussed how federal COVID relief funds have been used by the district for supplies, staff development, addressing learning loss and improving facilities to reduce virus exposure. The district hopes to use the third wave of those funds to replace district bathrooms this summer and next. 

In other news, Klaus revisited the topic of revised state learning standards for health and physical education. To help with the process, the district is hiring health consultant Dr. Michael Hodges. The superintendent explained the history of the standards and said since four state board of education members have raised concerns about the age appropriateness of some course topics, there may be another review by the state. 

While the majority of the standards were in alignment with what the district was already doing, Klaus addressed the three big areas of concern: second grade, fifth grade and eighth grade standards. He clarified that the second grade standard to address gender stereotypes is different from teaching gender identities and that it’s already been applied. And he noted that the newer standards call for sex education in eighth grade rather than the current 11th grade. 

Grookett said lessons will be taught once and will not recur, and that parents can opt out of a  particular topic. Other board members asked for more transparency and suggested creating a timeline for when the new standards will take place.

The board also announced that Hamisi Tarrant will be the next principal of Haddonfield Middle School, beginning July 1. The next board meeting will take place June 23 at the Haddonfield Memorial High School library at 7 p.m.

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