December 09, 2009

Why Heteros Should Support Marriage Equality

The New Jersey legislature is holding hearings on marriage equality, also known as gay marriage. Here is the letter I wrote to State Senator Tom Kean, a Republican who represents my district.
New Jersey residents, I hope you will write your own.

 Hi. I am a heterosexual, married for 17 years, with 2 children, living in your District. I am writing today to urge you to support marriage equality in New Jersey.
This is the civil rights issue of our day. I have gay friends and a gay brother who have been with their partners for longer than I've been with my husband; they have had civil unions but that isn't the same as being married. And they should have that right.
I know opponents of marriage equality argue same sex marriage is "wrong," "unnatural," and "just doesn't seem right."
In past generations, some white people didn't support the civil rights movement also because it "felt" wrong, unnatural, to have blacks share water fountains or to permits blacks and whites to marry.
I believe we will look back on this period when couples who love each other were forbidden to marry in precisely the same way.
Please, please, support marriage equality because it is the right thing to do.
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

November 05, 2009

Hazing Recommendations: How the Town, and School, Should Respond

I joined a Board of Ed-created task force formed in response to the hazing incidents, and we were required to sign a confidentiality pledge. But the meetings are being held mid-day, and because of work and time commitments, I had to step off the task force.

However, I sent Superintendent, Dr. Brodow, and Millburn High School Principal, Dr. Miron, a series of recommendations, many of which came from members of the town's workmom list serv.  Dr. Brodow graciously called me and assured me that he would bring them to the task force.

Below is the list of recommendations; I've revised slightly so as to include links and fix some grammatical errors!  If you think of anything else, email Dr. Brodow ( or Dr. Miron ( 

 *Publicize the punishment taken against the perpetrators of the hazing this year.
 I understand and completely support the Administration's determination to respect the privacy and identity of the students who came forward and took responsibility for the hazing.
But the community--and especially, this class of juniors and their parents--need to know that students who haze will receive serious consequences; unfortunately, Dr. Brodow's announcement before the Board--that there will be "be a disciplinary component along with community service and atonement,"--does not convey zero tolerance.
On the contrary, it is vague and conveys the impression that the transgressors are receiving a slap on the wrist. After all, community service--while perhaps an inconvenience to those involved--can be helpful on the resume.
If the administration's lack of a written, anti-hazing policy prevents harsher punishment, such as suspension, then at least say that and make clear what the punishment will be going forward so as to serve as deterrent.

*Develop a strong anti-hazing policy with clear consequences, and then publicize the policy. Both parents and students need to understand what hazing is and how it is different from bullying and what the consequences will be. Language needs to be included into the district's bullying policy or create a separate policy, as Denville did. Researchers who conducted national studies of high school hazing concluded that districts should create separate anti-hazing policies. I gave Debra Fox, a board member on the task force, a copy of an important, recent study as well. I'm providing link here.

*Give parents and students input by creating a web site or some mechanism on edline to receive comments, suggestions and tips from the community.
 One reason why there was such a media avalanche is that parents in this community were willing to talk anonymously to the press. While I was not one of them and felt that national publicity wasn't going to be productive, I understood parents' motivation; they felt frustrated and felt the only way to make themselves heard was to go to the press.
In an ideal world, yes, these parents would attend PTO and Board of Ed meetings, but many of them have demanding jobs and can't.  But they  have valuable ideas. Give them a means of communicating--and making themselves heard. Invite them to share their ideas--and their tips (perhaps they'll tell you via email if they've heard of juniors planning a hazing activity.).

Make them your partners, and you'll be much more likely to get buy in for administration policies, and you'll get far fewer disgruntled parents leaking to the press later. 

*Take a close look at school districts that are doing it right. Northern Highlands took a tough approach against girls' field hockey team hazing and won out. 
Glen Ridge moved on from an awful hazing incident.  Ridgewood, I'm also told, has successfully taken a tough approach against hazing.
The key: Go after the small infractions, as well as the large ones.

*Institute an evidence-based K-12, bullying prevention curriculum. All of the public testimony from parents about bullying in the elementary school indicates that we need a more comprehensive approach than the character education program currently in place. There are many evidence-based, bullying prevention programs, as you know. I'm told that Dr. Dan Olweus, an international expert on bullying prevention, who has developed evidence based programs that have been successful for grades 3-10.  
These need to be investigated.

*Start the ninth graders a day or two earlier than the upper class students. Perhaps this is a time that the school could meet with ninth graders and help make them feel empowered to report incidents.   I'm told Columbia High School in Maplewood does this, as well as a few other schools in NJ.

*Educate the athletic director and coaches about hazing, and make them accountable.
 Am I the only person hearing allegations that hazing goes on with the football team at the high school? Again, I have no way of knowing if this is true, but given that the hazing on the soccer team has occurred for 15 plus years, it's only reasonable to question why the athletics director and coach were unaware or unable to stop it. I know my stance may not be popular, and the athletics director has been at the school a long time, but this is the elephant in the room and has to be addressed. 
 I believe that  Northern Highlands high school principal addressed this problem when the girls' field hockey team was found to be hazing.
The principal at the time is now superintendent of the district, so he can be contacted.

*Send out periodic reports to parents and the community summarizing the work of the task force. I'd put this information on the web site you create. Make sure that there is transparency, and make parents part of the process in rooting out this pernicious tradition and removing the ugly stain on Millburn's name.
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

September 26, 2009

Millburn Middle Schoolers "List" Update

At a mother-daughter book group last night, I checked with my middle schooler and my friends' daughters: None of them had heard or seen any "list."

In the meantime, a friend sent me a link to a story that ran about the Millburn hazing in a publication in India! When will the media frenzy stop? My guess is that this story will continue to have "legs" until the town has put into effect a new policy and approach toward hazing.

UPDATE: Link to story in India.

Labels: ,

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

September 25, 2009

Millburn Middle Schoolers: Creating a List?

The Millburn Middle School just emailed parents, notifying them that officials have heard "a list" exists on some kids' Facebook sites.

Is this a new "slut list"? Or some other kind of list? Unknown. But the school is urging parents to do their job and investigate what their kids are doing online.

An excerpt here:

We have learned from parents that a Middle School “list” exists on a Facebook account.  The details I have are sparse, but I share this information with the Middle School community to enable you to do your job as parents.
Schools can not police internet activity, but parents can.  The amount of publicity surrounding the topic of hazing at the high school may have  provided our middle level students with the “temptation for imitation.”
Parents have often heard Middle School personnel talk about how preadolescents are still children who look, and sometimes act, like adults.  The do not fully understand the ramifications of their actions, so they require structure, guidance, and oversight.

I'm sure some local reporters may jump on this email to further a sensational--and inaccurate-- story line that the Millburn middle school kids are now being hazed, just as the high school students were.

Not so.

The Millburn Middle School is concerned about stopping any copy cat activity, as any school would be. (I remember a couple years ago, Columbia High School in Maplewood had a spate of bomb threats--as publicity led to one, then another,  and another.)

But if reporters want to write an accurate story, they should be focusing on the fact that the Millburn Middle School is being vigilant and jumping on the smallest sign of poor behavior, so that it doesn't escalate into something further. The administration is communicating with the parents and making them partners in their effort to create a community free of harassment---something that I would argue the high school should have done years ago.

As a parent of an eighth grader, I always have had respect for the principal, Michael Cahill, and his leadership. His handling of this issue increased it exponentially.

One caveat: The administration reiterates its long held belief that middle schoolers shouldn't have Facebook accounts. I've heard them suggest this before, and it's about as realistic as suggesting that teens shouldn't have cell phones. The answer is to do what their email suggests: Monitor what your kids are doing.

And that goes for parents in towns everywhere.

Labels: ,

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

September 24, 2009

Publishing the Slut List: The Pros and Cons

Previously, I wrote an appeal to local bloggers/media/residents to not fuel the media frenzy and spoke about how I'd hung up on producers from two tabloid, TV shows, seeking interviews.

Today, I see that the Patch blogger,  who was the first to publish the infamous "slut list," published a note, stating that she has not given other reporters the slut list. It was actually kind of a sad note: clearly, she has gotten grief from residents and local officials for having been the first to get that scoop.

Let me be clear: She is doing her job. Any local reporter covering this story would want to get their hands on that list. And I also think it is a good thing that parents and Board of Ed members in this town know exactly how graphic and degrading this list was--hopefully, it will quell the nonsensical thinking that this is just a "harmless" prank. In fact, I spoke to one Board member who clearly was shocked after reading the slut list and, as a result, is now determined to make change come.

However, I think all of the parents, students and public officials who are airing their grievances through unnamed interviews are accomplishing absolutely nothing except degrading the girls and further demeaning the community.

Now is the time for you to make your voices heard to the people who have the power to change the status quo --that can do some good.

Labels: ,

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Millburn Middle: The Hazing Rumors Fact-Checked

Walking my daughter to elementary school this morning, I was stopped by another parent--it was more talk about the silliness of the media coverage surrounding the hazing.

Of course, as a journalist who has covered women's issues, I get why this story is irresistible to the media. It's got all the right ingredients: the callowness of rich soccer moms, the decadence of the youth, plus the utter cluelessness of the parents and administrators. What's not to love?

Quite a lot if you're a parent living in town, seeing the rampant misreporting and sensationalism of the media.

Exhibit A: Local blogger writes about how "it seems middle schoolers are also dipping in to the high school’s decade-long tradition of hazing." The proof? An email to parents from the middle school principal that read in part:
It has come to our attention that an email is being or has been sent to a number of Middle School students about wearing a specific color or type of clothing at a certain time. Please know that this kind of message does not originate from, nor is condoned by, the Middle School. Students can and will wear whatever they like, as long as it follows the dress code.

My daughter is in the middle school. So I know exactly what the students' email said. One night, my daughter got a forwarded text, saying:

Let's wear black tomorrow. Let's get the teachers wondering. Forward this on.

A couple minutes later, she got another text, saying, Don't do it.

None of her friends wore black to the school the next day. In fact, very few kids in the school did.

And that is evidence of hazing reaching down?

By the way, the rest of the email from the Middle School principal, Michael Cahill, let parents know he was on top of the situation and would have zero tolerance if actual hazing and bullying occurred. But he never said it occurred! Because it clearly hasn't.
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

September 23, 2009

The Hazing in Millburn: The Media Feeding Frenzy

It's been months since I posted anything on my poor neglected blog. Paid work intervened.

What's inspired me to return is being in the middle of a media maelstrom in Millburn, the little town where I live and which, it was recently disclosed, is the home to a perverse, 15-year tradition of hazing.

At first, I didn't believe it when a friend told me she heard from another friend that a group of seniors at our high school--named the "best" high school in New Jersey last year--hazed freshmen girls by distributing "slut" lists, pushing them in lockers, and blowing whistles int heir faces on the first day of school. But pretty quickly, as we began to discuss hazing in an online discussion group of working moms, it became clear that the rumors were all true.

The emails began flying, and the Millburn superintendent and principal finally acknowledged the ugly episode publicly. And I attended my first Board of Ed meeting in probably eight years this week.

At the meeting, I urged the Board and the school district to create a task force to study how other schools have managed to eradicate this pernicious practice and come up with "best practices" policy. I left the meeting somewhat encouraged --the principal, superintendent and school board members all recognized the seriousness of the matter and seemed as determined as the parents to put an end to this tradition once and for all.

I hoped the serious work of researching and creating a new policy and approach would be the focus.

But, with the mixture of schadenfreude--bringing down the "number one" school district--and a little sex, the media--"citizen journalists," local TV reporters, bloggers and newspaper reporters-- descended and are threatening to turn this into a really ugly circus.

Today I got calls from two lurid, tabloid shows looking to do "investigative" reports on hazing in Millburn. I told one producer that I wasn't interested and wouldn't give her anyone's contact information. An hour later, I got a call from another show and told her the same thing.

As a journalist, I have a pretty good idea what these TV shows would look like--cheesy re-enactments and stock photos of teen girls scantily clad, all the while a voice intones about the decadent, indecent goings on in Millburn High.

So I wrote a note to my fellow Millburn-Short Hills working moms and posted it on the list serve. Here is an excerpt:

Please, those of you who know local reporters/citizen journalists and local public officials, tell them not to take the bait. It's not going to help their careers--they will give away their sources and lend their reputations to this cheesy show and get nothing in return--except helping a exploitative, sensational report that will degrade our daughters and demean the community.
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

January 21, 2009

Kids' Allergies Stronger, Harder to Outgrow

The bad news about children's food allergies continues to mount.
A new study from Johns Hopkins Children's Center found that milk and egg allergies today are more persistent than previously believed. Previous research had indicated that 75% of children with milk allergy outgrew the allergy by age 3, but the Hopkins study found that about 80% of the children still had the milk or egg allergy at age 4. At age 16, still roughly a third had not outgrown their allergies.
Said Robert Wood, M.D., the head of allergy and immunology at Hopkins:
"The bad news is that the prognosis for a children with milk or egg allergy appears to be worse than it was 20 years ago...Not only do more kids have allergies, but fewer of them outgrow their allergies, and those who do, do so later than before."

Will this stop irresponsible and uninformed articles like Joel Stein's "Nut Allergies: A Yuppie Invention"?
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!