TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblyman Brandon Umba says the state Board of Education has denied the public its voice concerning children’s education well beyond any reasonable claim of ongoing public health concerns. With local and state governing bodies safely back to working in person for months with public participation, the Board must offer the same.
“Many of us understood that back in March 2020, we had no idea what we were facing with this novel virus. But to be living as if it’s April 2020 when it’s nearly January 2023 is inexcusable,” Umba (R-Burlington) said. “Every single member of the public, whatever their politics, should be terrified and outraged. A public body that holds so much power over so many vulnerable members of our state—our children—has shut out fathers’ and mothers’ voices so brazenly without consequence.”
The 13-member board suspended in-person meetings in April 2020 due to government lockdowns over Covid-19 concerns. It has persisted in meeting virtually while denying the public the right to speak on agenda items through its Nov. 9, 2022 meeting, despite Gov. Phil Murphy lifting most pandemic restrictions back in March. Members of the public have been restricted to offering written testimony with no opportunity to interact with board members.
The board’s December 2022 agenda was not available at press time.
“It’s time public discourse and healthy public debate comes back. It is a constitutional right,” Umba exclaimed.
Umba’s bill (A4669) would require that state Board of Education meetings be accessible in person and virtually, effective immediately. A link to those meetings must be available on the board’s website. In addition, the board must allowed the public to make comments remotely.
Umba pointed to parents and citizens being left voiceless at the board level on important decisions on remote learning, sex education standards, forced quarantines, masking and mandatory Covid vaccinations for extracurricular activities and eventual unmasked school attendance.
“We are witnessing first-hand what happens when a group of people take power and won’t give it up, even after the emergency is long gone,” Umba added. “It’s obviously going to take the force of law for this unelected board to give the public its voice back.”
Sen. Jean Stanfield and Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho are sponsoring an identical bill.