EO school walkout planned to illustrate problems faced

Members of the East Orange Education Association teachers' union that came to City Council's regular meeting on Monday, May 23, literally stand up in solidarity with their president, Jacqueline Gradington, center in yellow, about to give the governing body an update on ongoing contract talks with the Board of Education.
Members of the East Orange Education Association teachers’ union that came to City Council’s regular meeting on Monday, May 23, literally stand up in solidarity with their president, Jacqueline Gradington, center in yellow, about to give the governing body an update on ongoing contract talks with the Board of Education.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Students at STEM Academy School protested Friday, May 20, after receiving news the East Orange Board of Education had decided to transfer their principal to another school in the district. And on Monday, May 23, the STEM students joined members of the East Orange Education Association teachers union at a protest for a new long-term contract outside East Orange City Hall.

Demonstrators at City Hall said they came to support school personnel and believe it is time East Orange residents have the power to elect their own BOE representatives. Currently BOE representatives are appointed to serve by the mayor.

Then, on Tuesday, May 31, East Orange High School and Clifford J. School Alumni Association President Robert McGrady sent out an email blast alerting the public that Sojourner Truth Middle School students and former 1st Ward Councilwoman Andrea McPhatter planned a walkout protest for Wednesday, June 1, at 2 p.m., during school hours, to demonstrate their opposition to the BOE’s recent decision to transfer the school’s principal, Vincent Stallings, to another school in the district.

East Orange Board of Education President Bergson Leneus issued his own statement on the eve of the scheduled Sojourner Truth Middle School walkout protest: “Our policy prohibits the East Orange Board of Education from publicly disclosing pending details of personnel matters; however, we want parents, staff and students to know that our decision to transfer several administrators within the school district was one that was made with the best interest of our students and families in mind,” said Leneus on Tuesday, May 31.

“In order to continue to rise to a higher standard of excellence, it is essential that we make placements that will further strengthen each school and move the entire district forward. We believe that this decision will yield much-needed transformational change in our district.”

According to Leneus, the BOE is not making decisions in a vacuum.

“Both the Superintendent’s and the Board of Education’s offices welcome parental input and engagement as we work in partnership for the advancement of our children. The administration and the board will host meetings with the affected school PTA/PTO boards to hear and understand the concerns of the community.” said Leneus on Tuesday, May 31. “Our offices are always open.”

East Orange Education Association President Jackie Gradington said that, while that may be the case, she and her members were at City Hall Plaza on Monday, May 23, to inform City Council about issues with the ongoing contract negotiations with the district and the BOE.

“The teachers are not striking; the teachers are protesting and we’re making our issues known. A strike is a very different thing,” said Gradington, an East Orange resident, on Monday, May 23. “The issue is, we’re going into our third year without a contract and we believe it is a show of disrespect by the board. Initially, they weren’t even coming to the table. We had to file charges to even get them to come to the table and to provide us with information that we needed to begin bargaining.”

City Council Chairman and 3rd Ward Councilman Ted Green said the council got the teachers’ message loud and clear and now they will do everything in their power to help bring an amicable solution to the situation as soon as possible.

“Thank all of you for coming out this evening and giving us the opportunity to hear some of the issues,” said Green on Monday, May 23. “We hear you. We do understand that you play a vital role in this community.”

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