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Day schools laud Ridgewood principal for Facebook stand

It seems like everybody these days is on Facebook — well, almost everybody.

Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, made worldwide headlines last week after he sent an e-mail to parents urging them to take their children off the social networking site. Speaking to The Jewish Standard earlier this week, Orsini said the general reaction from the local community has been one of gratitude. Some parents have heeded his advice while others have ignored it, he said, but his e-mail succeeded in getting people to talk more about Internet safety with their children.

“I was simply imploring them to look out for the safety of their kids,” Orsini said. “I also made very, very clear that obviously it’s a family choice and I respect any choice a family makes.”

The Standard turned to area day-school leaders to see if they agreed with the principal’s actions.

At Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, Facebook is blocked on all of the school’s computers. Social networking, said Robert Smolen, general studies coordinator and middle school director, is meant to be face to face.

“We know that the Ridgewood principal is correct,” he said. “The use of the Internet for communication that can be very negative and bullying and provocative is something we are not in favor of. We have gotten feedback from time to time about children using it inappropriately and taken them to task for that.”

Smolen acknowledged that Facebook can be used positively. But children, he said, don’t always keep things in perspective, and the site can have a negative impact and lead to cliques.

A recent “South Park” episode lampooned those who get so caught up with the site that their non-virtual relationships are defined by their popularity status on Facebook. In the episode, the main character Kyle befriends a third-grader named Kip Drodry who has no other Facebook friends. Kip is ecstatic, but Kyle watches as his own friends count drops because of his association with this perceived outcast.

At Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, the sixth- and seventh-graders receive formal education in Internet use, said Larry Mash, principal of SSDS’s middle school.

“Our position is we encourage smart use by our students and we encourage careful oversight by parents,” he said. “The parents need to be aware of where their kids are on the Internet and how much they’re using the Internet.”

The Moriah School in Englewood holds a program every year, with local police, on the dangers of Facebook. The school has in the past urged parents not to let their children use the site, but realizing that’s not always realistic, the school asks parents to monitor their children on the Internet, said principal Elliot Prager.

“What a child does in his or her free time, if it involves another child in the school [negatively], Moriah will take all necessary steps, including expulsion from school if necessary,” he said.

Last year Moriah instituted a new cyberbullying policy, considering cyberbullying an offense whether it takes place in or outside of school. After letters about the policy were sent home the school issued a handful of suspensions for violations, but has not had to respond as harshly this year.

“From what we can see and what we know, the policy has had a very positive impact on the behavior of the kids,” Prager said.

Arthur Poleyeff, general studies principal at high school Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, not only agreed that middle school students should stay off Facebook, but added that high school students should not use the site either.

“There is very little benefit for students being on Facebook in middle school or high school,” he said. “Parents should take control over what their kids are doing online and not allow them to have computers in their bedroom where they’re locked away all day and night.”

Gerrard Berman’s Smolen urges parents to closely follow what their children do on the Internet. Facebook, he said, is just one of many opportunities children have to interact online and if it’s taken away, they can easily find another vehicle.

“Parents have given their children a tool, and the children need to have an accountability for that tool,” Smolen said. “IPhones, iPods, and iTouches all have Internet capability. It’s like giving them the keys to the car and letting them go wherever they want.”

Orsini said he has heard from more than 100 parents about his e-mail. Some have disagreed with him but most have been respectful. He is amazed, he said, that news of his request has grabbed international headlines.

“It hit a nerve,” he said.

 
 

Frisch school-bus accident brings focus on safety

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This bus brought students from Rockland County, N.Y., to The Frisch School in Paramus on Wednesday. Lloyd de Vries

Tuesday’s school bus accident involving high school students heading from Rockland County to Jewish schools in Paramus has raised questions about school bus safety.

The bus went onto the center median just south of exit 171 on the Garden State Parkway in Woodcliff Lake Tuesday morning, hitting a guard rail and trees. The 13 students on the bus and the driver were taken to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, where they were treated for minor injuries ranging from a concussion to a broken nose.

The issue of school bus safety is complicated further because the 12 Frisch School students and one Bat Torah student were coming from one state into another.

In New Jersey, local public school districts are required to provide bus transportation to students attending nonprofit private schools, so long as they live between two and 20 miles from the school, and the district provides busing for its own students.

In New York, the range for K-8 students is two to 15 miles and three to 15 for high school students. The Frisch School is about 12 miles from the East Ramapo Central School District, which was providing the transportation for the students involved in Tuesday’s accident, and about 15 miles from the central pick-up spot.

Each school day, three buses bring students from that Rockland County area to Frisch.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first [bus] accident” involving Frisch students, Rabbi John Krug, dean of student life and welfare, told The Jewish Standard.

New York State requires that students going to private schools be picked up not at their homes, but from a central point, which in this case was the Grandview School in Wesley Hills (Monsey), N.Y.

Parents may pay for bus transportation if the distance to the private school is less or more than these parameters.

There is a limit on how much a New Jersey school district may spend on transporting a student; currently, it’s $884 per year. If the cost of transportation to a nonpublic school exceeds that, the district pays that amount to the parents or guardians, who then make up the difference.

The bus in Tuesday’s accident was operated by Chestnut Ridge Transportation in Spring Valley, N.Y., owned by The Trans Group.

The East Ramapo school district referred questions to the New York State website. Chestnut Ridge Transportation did not return several calls.

New Jersey and New York school buses are inspected at least twice a year, according to government websites.

Only six states require school buses to have seat belts, but New York and New Jersey are two of them. New Jersey is the only state, however, that requires their use by student passengers.

About 40 percent of the students at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford are brought there by bus, although none comes from Rockland County. Some of the transportation is funded by public school districts.

“We make sure that when our students get on the buses that they’re seated properly,” Larry Mash, middle school principal at Solomon Schechter in New Milford, told the Standard. “We have less control over the ride in the morning.”

Whether the students remained buckled up is the responsibility of the bus driver, said Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck administrator Rachel Feldman.

Some of the bus transportation for students at Ma’ayanot is arranged by the school, some by the students’ parents, and none by public school districts, Feldman told the Standard, but in all cases, the bus companies must meet certain standards, and she has copies of their insurance certificates on file.

“The companies that we use, as far as we know, have good records,” said Schechter’s Mash.

The Schechter school probably will review school bus safety after the Frisch accident, as it does routinely. Students periodically participate in school bus safety drills, such as how to exit from the rear of a bus, Mash added.

“Thank God, it’s a much happier ending than it could have been,” Elaine Weitzman, Frisch executive director, told the Standard.

And Krug related that happy ending on the sixth day of Chanukah to the holiday.

“We could change nes gadol haya sham, ‘a great miracle happened there,’ to nes gadol haya po, ‘a great miracle happened here,’” he said.

 
 
 
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