Opinion: What Verona Must Stand For

By on November 6, 2017

Standing UpAt the start of the 2017-2018 school year, the Verona public school district unveiled a poster that was created by students to spell out what we stand for in Verona. Maybe you saw it when we wrote about this year’s convocation. Maybe you’ve seen it in school hallways and gyms. Maybe you’ve seen it in businesses around town.

What Verona stands for, the creators say, is respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The message was the outgrowth of some very hard work done by school officials, Board of Education members, and community members on two committees: Code of Conduct & Respect and Mental Health & Suicide Prevention. These committees were created in the wake of the suicide of my younger son, but they were built on a philosophy of respect that has long been part of Verona’s student handbooks. The poster’s message expressly called on the community to reject rumors as part of building a culture of respect and take responsibility for what happens. Not only to prevent further suicides, but to ensure that conditions in Verona schools are conducive to learning and to helping our students be the best that they can be in all their activities.

Respect has been in short supply in some corners of Verona in the last three weeks as the district investigated a situation involving the Verona High School football team. Instead of respecting the complex, confidential process that needed to be conducted, a legally mandated process designed to respect the rights of both coaches and players, rumors were spread and blame was assigned, often to the very students whose mental and physical safety we are supposed to be protecting. Players and parents were called weak–and worse.

This must not be what Verona stands for, especially now that the district’s investigation has found clear problems in the coaching of a large group of our athletes. It is time for Verona to reclaim, and carry forward, the commitment to respect that we made when the school year began.

How can you make a commitment to respect? First, by telling your family that you respect the football players that spoke up for the investigation, and the investigative process. Then, make these points to your friends. I will not ask you to expose yourself to assault on social media by posting there; this is a conversation best handled in person anyway. Ask your friends to share the same message of respect to those in their circle–and beyond. If you want to make a more public commitment, consider taking the Verona Municipal Alliance Committee’s SAFE Homes pledge this month. It specifically asks residents to forbid bullying.

In 1970, the band Crosby, Stills and Nash released “Teach Your Children”. It called on parents to teach their children–and children to teach their parents–to be better people. If we stay silent as the Board of Education, the superintendent and school administrators are attacked for doing the job that they have been elected and hired to do, if we stay silent as students are mistreated, we are not teaching Verona and we are not standing for respect.

The student-designed posted of what we stand for in Verona.

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Copyright 2017 MyVeronaNJ

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5 Comments

  1. Laura Fortgang

    November 6, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you for addressing this issue. Many vocal residents have publicly condemned the students and families who spoke up about what they saw and what they experienced. They feel the sensitivities (not their words, but mine) of some has ruined ‘the fun’ for everybody else. The vicious rumors and condemnation of the board, administration and others is misplaced. When there is NO ABILITY for the investigators and decision makers to speak openly about allegations due to confidentiality and legalities it is especially unfair to judge with such harshness. (And why won’t the coach waive confidentiality? Have people not asked themselves that as he alone controls the narrative?)
    I am not from a football lineage having none of my children participating, but I have spoken to others who support the coach 100%, who feel”it’s football, what do you expect?” Can we please remember we are still a school? We are preparing a higher percentage of these kids for life than we are for professional football careers. Yes, real life can be harsh and your boss won’t coddle you but there is happy medium between coddling and over the top negative ‘encouragement’. What is it that we want for raising our boys? Is verbal abuse (or other punishments) the example of leadership we want our kids to emulate? If this is how their coach got results from them do you think they might not do the same? There are higher forms of leadership. Let’s stand for those.

  2. Cinzia Cortese

    November 6, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I agree with Laura wholeheartedly! In the past few days I have been feeling that we are back in time, before we knew what we know now. A bully is a bully, whether he/she is a third grader or a coach. We also know now that screaming to kids, insulting and/or demeaning them will not produce any positive results: respect and motivation do!
    I am appalled by the vicious attacks against the BOE: they are unjust and irrational.

  3. Doug Brandt

    November 7, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    You hit the nail squarely. Often people act out of pure emotion not thinking about what they might be saying, and how they might be saying it. Having both coached and played college ball, I’ve observed a lot of good coaches and only a few great ones. Great coaches win with the ability to create a team environment that inspire one-another to perform at a high level and achieve great results, while keeping clear of controversy. Winning at the HS level is least important when shaping and molding young players/athletes toward maturity. I respect our school officials and the way they have worked through dealing with this emotional matter. Most important is the safety of the players,and having little information but heresay, I’m confident the results will be justified.

  4. Palma Quagliata

    November 8, 2017 at 9:26 am

    We don’t have to look very far here. The current seniors who were on the team as sophomores numbered 14. This year? 5 seniors are on the football team with a class size of 159. Not exactly a sign of a healthy, prospering football program with an inspiring coach. There’s a reason these boys chose not to play for this man anymore.

    I applaud the Verona administration and BOE for the thorough investigation and then transparency in publishing all that they could within the confines of confidentiality. For those wanting more details- as Laura states in the first comment- only the coach can fill in the blanks and he has chosen not to.

    To those parents with young children who purchased a home in Verona because of the school system, please know that you have made the right choice. I moved here 12 years ago from out of state, choosing Verona for the same reason you did. I have seen 3 superintendents leave for various reasons. I cannot tell you how supportive I am of Dr. Dionisio and the BOE for the work done the last few years to set the tone for a prosperous school system with academic and extra curricular excellence for all children.

  5. D Gautieri

    November 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Those numbers mean nothing. Every class is different. My son David’s class(2015 season) had 16 who played their senior year. My son Matt’s(2016 season) ended with 11. In fact 2 boys came out for football in their senior year, so i fail to see what your point is. This year actually has 6 seniors, not 5 as you stated. It was never a big football class. The freshmen & sophomore classes are both big. Now that there will be a new coach does that mean no one will quit?? I highly doubt it. Look at baseball, numerous kids quit from freshman to senior year. Please don’t try to make correlations where there are none. There were serious flaws in how the investigation was conducted but it is what it is.

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