January 30, 2023

5 minutes read


The River Edge School District can reconfigure classes in its three elementary school buildings to address overcrowding and better integrate students with disabilities into the general population.

However, the proposal met with opposition from local residents, who warned it would create instability for students in the district from preschool through sixth grade, who are only now readjusting after the peak of COVID-19 disruptions. Some also said at a school board meeting last week the plan would put a strain on working parents who would have to drop their children off at two different schools rather than one.

“The impact on our working families will be huge,” said Suzanne Lyons, who would face two different delivery times for her children. “It has to be an important consideration as we move forward and figure out how this is all going to work.”

The proposal, outlined during Wednesday’s meeting, would make the Cherry Hill School campus, which includes the district’s New Bridge Center, home to prekindergarten through third grade classes. The Roosevelt School would house fourth through sixth graders.

There are currently 715 students on the Cherry Hill campus and 478 students on the Roosevelt School. If reconfigured, 688 students would attend Cherry Hill and 505 Roosevelt.

In addition to easing space restrictions, the district wants to address the “unintended consequences” of previous projects that have concentrated students with disabilities at the New Bridge Center, Superintendent Cathy Danahy said.

“We’ve evolved into one campus, but actually into two schools,” she said on Wednesday. “NBC has become what people call ‘the special education building.’ I have moral and ethical concerns about that. In addition, the law protects students from this type of separation.”

New Bridge is affiliated with Cherry Hill School, which currently has a kindergarten through sixth grade in the south of the city. Roosevelt. in the north of the city, now houses kindergarten through sixth grade.

How the school district got here

During a presentation Wednesday, Danahy said she gave a state-of-the-school speech last May in which she discussed space limitations. At the time there was a thought of moving the kindergarten back to the New Bridge Center, but ultimately it was decided that it was too early to make that decision.

In December, finance and facilities committees met to consider the district’s physical location. Another idea was brought to the table: the reconfiguration of the notes, which was first presented to the public during Wednesday night’s session.

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Prior to 2005, the school district offered only a half-day kindergarten, but that changed when a proposal to build the New Bridge Center that would accommodate a modified full-day kindergarten was accepted in a referendum with the building’s opening in 2007.

Over the years, more standalone classes, including the Building Bridges and Building Connections classes, have been brought into the New Bridge Center, allowing the district to bring back students previously sent out of the district. By 2013, there were five standalone programs at the New Bridge Center.

The Building Bridges program helps students with autism and disabilities from preschool through sixth grade. Building Connections is a program that serves disabled students in kindergarten through third grade.

In 2015, Cherry Hill School’s student body was overcrowded and needed additional space. Four kindergarten classes left New Bridge Center and went to the Roosevelt School to make room for additional classrooms at Cherry Hill.

The school district wants more integration between students

Moving kindergarten children to the Roosevelt School was a “temporary fix” and workaround.

“Special education students have the right to study alongside classmates in classrooms and the way we have segregated students is a challenge that we must address for the good of our students and to comply with the law,” Danahy said.

One of the key components of the reconfiguration is to bring the Building Bridges and Building Connections classes more into the school community. The transformation would result in students with disabilities and the general student body participating side-by-side in gatherings and special programs such as theater and dance.

There is currently not enough space for ergotherapy and physiotherapy in the special school classes. Some resource room classes are also taught in a dual-use room or larger room separated by a center partition, which isn’t ideal, Danahy said.

“We do our best in scheduling to make sure these classes don’t happen at the same time, but sometimes they do,” she said. “Special education resource classes are best taught in designated small groups.”

On the staff side, there is insufficient parking for staff or street parking for teachers. A significant number of staff traveling to different buildings also shortens class time.

“This conversation isn’t going away,” Danahy said. “We can either find big solutions to our big challenges, or we can continue to build in small workarounds that might solve small things along the way, but not the big things.”

Students, parents raise objections

Before making a decision, district officials said, they must conduct an in-depth traffic study, consider bus travel, find solutions that have fewer cars on the road, and figure out drop-off and pick-up procedures.

At Wednesday’s meeting, there was also discussion of alternatives, including hiring staff, moving the kindergarten to New Bridge Center, reallocating students throughout the district, and moving sixth graders to River Dell Middle School. The latter would come with its own challenges, as dual-use spaces would remain, school officials said. Moving sixth grade to River Dell Middle School would require both River Edge and Oradell to pass a referendum, parents have been told.

During the meeting’s public comment session, many students and parents opposed the idea of ​​changing the grades between the three buildings.

Madeline Markman, a fifth grader at Cherry Hill School, said she and many of her classmates were upset at the suggestion that she be transferred to the Roosevelt School for her senior year. This year has felt the most normal since the pandemic hit, and the idea of ​​changing schools makes her and her classmates “upset and scared”.

“It means a lot to us to finish our senior year and graduate from Cherry Hill,” Markman said.

Jenna Dolaghan, a parent who works as a substitute teacher at both Roosevelt and Cherry Hill, said the plan would “rip the rug out” for students after a year of returning to normalcy following pandemic disruptions.

“If you talk to any behaviorist or counselor out there, they will tell you that kids need routine and consistency,” Dolaghan said.

Maria Rivera, a parent who has a sixth-grader in the Building Connections program, said her son is able to participate in activities with the rest of the student body.

“My son does every single activity, he goes to every single class party, he’s involved in everything,” Rivera said. “He’s not excluded.”

Stephanie Noda is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @snoda11

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