Community discusses new District Equity Team


Abby Shapiro

The community discussed the new District Equity Team during Monday night’s BOE meeting held in Pascack Valley’s Cafeteria and virtually on Zoom. The BOE also discussed the possible usage of flags other than the American flag in the district high schools.

At the recommendation of district Superintendent Erik Gundersen, the Board of Education approved the District Equity Team as a new co-curricular club for the 2021-22 school year with Erica Franceski as the club’s advisor. The board discussed this decision during Monday night’s BOE meeting held in Pascack Valley’s cafeteria and virtually on Zoom. 

“[The District Equity Team] has been tasked with evaluating all sorts of topics that we deal with in the school district with regards to embracing student differences, and looking at those differences as assets,” Gundersen said. “[The club pays attention to how] we can continue to make improvements to make sure that all students feel equally welcome in the Pascack Valley family.”

Gundersen clarified that joining the club is voluntary and it will serve as an outlet for students to have their voices heard, including when it comes to informing the BOE of improvements that can be made from an “equity standpoint.”

River Vale resident Eli Moallem conveyed his opposition to the club, stating that he didn’t see why the board was concerning itself with “non-essential” issues amidst the pandemic.

Hillsdale Mayor John Ruocco shared his thoughts on the topic, hoping to urge the board to be “less dependent” in creating the vision statement on “identity politics, which is not embraced by all the residents, and also less reflective of a theory of modern Marxism, which is the theory of equity.”

BOE President Tammy Molinelli said the students in the club have expressed that the club is “one of the best things they have ever experienced.”

“[Students] have said they feel empowered and now see things they didn’t before,” Molinelli said. “[The three students from the equity team that I spoke with] were glowing with excitement that they felt like they were more comprehensive [people] and they understood their world better. They understood themselves better, [as well as] how they actually fit into the context of their community.”

BOE member Gini Varghese felt that as a board member, one must “leave personal feelings to the side” in order to hear every viewpoint that is being offered in a topic.

“We’re not here to do this job for one child or two children, or two different groups of children,” Varghese said. “We’re here to do governance for the entire district. We are not trying to shove anything down any child’s throat at all whatsoever.”

Following the discussion of the club, there was questioning on whether there was a policy on the request of displaying a flag on campus for certain clubs. 

“There are so many other, equally important political, religious, cultural, [and] ethnic clubs – how could we choose which ones to fly and why?” BOE member Debra Stephans said. “I think this is the perfect example of a slippery slope.”

Board Secretary Yas Usami shared that there will be three board member seat vacancies, one in each town of Hillsdale, River Vale, and Montvale during the upcoming November 2021 election.

Isabella Zuluaga

Also, the administrative team is finalizing the details of the 2021-22 schedule, which includes the enrollment of an eighth period, according to Gundersen.

Gundersen addressed NJ Governor Phil Murphy’s announcement that COVID-19 related outdoor and indoor precautions have been lifted.

“[Murphy’s announcement] continues to bode well for our springtime events as we continue to celebrate proms, senior trips, and ultimately graduation,” Gundersen said. “We are all growing increasingly excited for the seniors to experience a ‘normal’ send-off.”

At the recommendation of Gundersen, the position of special education/English teacher at PV has been approved to be filled by

Denna Mahmoud. Crystal Pomales has also been approved as a part-time day custodian for PV.

In addition, the 2021-22 summer reading list was approved by the board per Gundersen’s recommendation. The list contains each grade level’s standard book options as well as texts for courses such as Sports Literature, Language Myth & Culture, and Literature of the Holocaust.