The first Belleville Board of Education meeting of the new school year opened with representatives of parent-school organizations expressing concern about rules requiring the charitable groups to obtain insurance and to prove their non-profit status is current, among other requirements.
Officials said Monday night the requirements are necessary to protect not just the school district but the organizations themselves. Without insurance or a current non-profit status, the school district as well as individual parents could be liable in the event of litigation, said board attorney Al DeMeo.
“When you’re dealing with minors, the suit can be filed years after the fact, up until the child reaches majority age,” he told the audience. “If you’re talking about elementary school children that could be eight or ten years [after].”
Over the summer DeMeo sent out letters asking school PTAs and Home and School Associations to produce records showing that they are registered nonprofits, as well as financial records, along with obtaining insurance coverage. “Most of the organizations” have complied, DeMeo said, while others are nearly in compliance.
A number of representatives of the groups spoke during the meeting’s public portion and said they were working to satisfy the requirements, but also expressed concern that activities sponsored by the groups could be jeopardized if they’re unable to get insurance and produce the records soon enough. The groups are independent but often use Belleville school facilities for activities.
“My goal and my hope is that the students don’t suffer,” said Danielle Schaefer, president of the School 8 HSA.
Another parent, concerned that the School 4 HSA may disband rather than provide the requested paperwork, asked whether she could create an organization serving sixth-graders at the building.
Yet another parent, Suzanne Biondi, also said the requirements put the volunteers who run the groups under the gun, pressuring them to submit the paperwork with the dates for planned events coming up. She also took issue with the way the parents were informed of the requirements.
“To have these letters go out over the summer, when busy parents have a lot to do....I’m going to say is inopportune,” she said. “I think a letter from the attorney may have been perceived as hostile.”
“I do apologize if anyone took that letter for hostile,” board president Peter Zangari replied. “If it was perceived that way, I apologize.”
DeMeo and Superintendent Joseph Picardo agreed to meet with any parent organizations having difficulty on Sept. 20.
In other news:
- Board member John Rivera suggested opening up school facilities to English as a Second Language (ESL) programs currently hosted at the Belleville Public Library. Though historically popular, Rivera said participation in the programs is declining, possibly because the library’s Washington Avenue location is not convenient for many people. The board agreed to explore the matter further.
- Board member Joseph Longo publicly apologized for “losing his cool” on Sunday during the township’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony, in which Longo took part. Longo gave a heated response when a resident asked him a question about school-related business at the ceremony, which Longo attributed partly to the emotions stirred by the memory of the attacks. “I apologize to the board and the community,” Longo said, extending the apology to the family of the person as well.
- Resident Ralph Vellon criticized the board for personnel changes that he said made it difficult for parents to register their children for school this year, alleging that cuts were made at the staff level while more positions were added in administration. Zangari angrily denied the charge, saying that more personnel have been added to the classroom.
The next meeting of the board will be held Sept 19 at 8 pm at library of Belleville High School, 100 Passaic Ave.