The Board of Education convened for six hours Thursday night in a session dominated by labor complaints and by information on new psychological services to be offered to students citywide. Board members also discussed the district’s current teacher shortage and recognized National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Representing thousands of their co-unionists, several members of Local 2262 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (which includes custodians, cafeteria workers, and other school-based employees) presented a list of grievances concerning payment delays and the district’s divulging of sensitive information.

Lakeshia Jenkins said that on September 28 a routine statistic she had requested from the district was furnished in a file that inadvertently included members’ social security numbers. 

Having notified the district immediately about the security breach, she said she never received a response. Last night she asked the board whether those colleagues of hers who had also been affected would be informed of the breach and what if anything the district was doing to remediate it. 

Jenkins and others also came to discuss back payments that had been missed or made inaccurately. 

Dorothy Abernathy, a security guard who has worked for the district for over two decades said that after registering a complaint with the district about the wrong payments, she “received a two-sentence email without an apology.” She asked the board, “Why is it that when it comes to 2262, we are always waiting for something? We have already done the work.” 

Board president Gerald Lyons told Abernathy the district would find a solution. “You don’t mess with people’s money,” he said.

Superintendent Norma Fernandez made a presentation on new mental health services Jersey City Public Schools will provide in response to a reported increase in incidence of depression, anxiety, and suicide amongst school-aged students, especially youth of color. 

According to Fernandez, the new program will outfit high schools with clinics that will “enable adolescents to complete their education and lead emotionally and physically healthy lives.” Run in partnership with RWJ Barnabas Health, the service will be referral based, offer individual and group sessions, and include behavioral therapy and animal therapy among other modalities, she said. 

A shorter but significant part of the board meeting involved Jersey City’s current teacher shortage. To illustrate that Jersey City is not alone in the matter, Lyons told the gathering that Newark had even recently offered him a teaching position to fill their void (something he assured the board he never entertained). 

Board members Younass Barkouch and Lorenzo Richardson acknowledged the seriousness of the shortage but asked for people’s understanding given that there is “a bidding war for teachers.”

Last night’s meeting began with comments by Aldo Sanchez Abreu, executive director of bilingual and ESL programs, recognizing the myriad ways Jersey City had celebrated the recently concluded Hispanic Heritage month. Third grader Michaela Pires (who was dressed as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and read a brief history of Sotomayor’s life) and students from Liberty High School (who read “Muchas Naciones, Una Identidad” or Many Nations, One Identity) also participated in the bilingual tribute

Vincent Onofre is a journalist based in the tri-state area. Raised in Texas, he has found a love for the northeast and New Jersey pizza. His go-to beats include politics and civics, healthcare and education....