Mothers question [lack of] 9/11 observance at Ridge High

By Charlie Zavalick The Bernardsville News

Disgraceful. Disrespectful. Appalling. A shame.

Those were some of the emotional words used by township mothers in online discussions about the lack of a moment of silence at Ridge High School last Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America.

The discussion began on the “Basking Ridge moms” Facebook page, but will apparently continue at the Monday, September 24, Board of Education meeting, which some of the parents say they will attend.

“It’s time that we as a community make it a mandatory thing,” said Stacy Lettie, a Basking Ridge mother of three, in an interview with this newspaper. “Most of our children have friends who lost a parent that day. They’ve grown up with this – it’s a fact of life. The children are talking about it regardless of what the schools do.”

“Some parents don’t want it discussed because it’s so disturbing,” she said. “Frankly I think the entire town should do it.”

Seventeen township residents died in the 9/11 attacks, one of the highest totals of any New Jersey community.

The district has not mandated a moment of silence in all schools but has left it up to the individual building principals and teachers.

“We have not observed a moment of silence as far as I can remember as a district, as this decision was at the discretion of the building principal in consultation with Central Office,” Superintendent of Schools Nick Markarian wrote in response to the mothers.

In an email to this newspaper, Markarian noted that there were moments of silence on the 10th anniversary in the district but not prior to that.

“It can be difficult to grapple between being sensitive to our staff and students on this topic and simultaneously doing activities about the day,” he said, noting that curriculum materials and lesson ideas were shared with staff district wide by the supervisor of social studies. “Clearly this is a sensitive topic for our country and in particular for this community – it can be difficult to predict how people may react to an activity that triggers intense feelings – especially for people who experienced great loss and grief.

“The topic is given the great respect it deserves in our curriculum to all students,” he said.

Nonetheless, some parents feel the students should have a say in whether a moment of silence is observed.

“Ideally, the situation should be determined by the students,” said Wendi Smith of Basking Ridge. “They are the future leaders of our country. It’s important to discuss it.

“It doesn’t have to be a moment of silence but something to commemorate the day that affected so many of us in the tri-state area,” she added.

“My personal feeling is that we have an obligation to take a minute – just one minute – to remember those people we lost,” Lettie said. “I’m not saying we should call out their names. But all over the country people are taking a minute to remember and we’re not doing that. It’s disturbing.”

The “collective mind set” of the country is that we are “moving on” from 9/11, said Sharon Vopal, a Basking Ridge parent who was also graduated from Ridge High.

“We just can’t forget it and we shouldn’t. We’re inexplicably tied to world history forever. I think the school is missing a real good civics opportunity to teach the kids to recognize their country.

“There will come a time that it will be forgotten,” she said. “Have we forgotten already? Are we headed down that path too soon?”

‘Still at War’

Most of the mothers commenting on the Facebook page expressed similar sentiments.

“I’m offended that we did not have a moment of silence,” one mom wrote. “We are still at war people.”

“Maybe in certain parts of the country people have moved on but those of us that were here in Basking Ridge on that day when our husbands were getting off the train from NYC will NEVER forget,” wrote another.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” another mom responded. “There should at the very least been a moment of silence as a school.”

In the Somerset Hills Regional School District in Bernardsville last Tuesday, a statement was read on the morning announcements asking the students “to remember and keep those who lost their lives in their thoughts.” There was no official moment silence.

There was a moment of silence at the local Shop Rite, however, according to one Basking Ridge mom. “Sad that this is done in the grocery store and not in school,” she wrote.

Several moms said their children told them they did have moments of silence in some individual Ridge classrooms and at the William Annin Middle School.

In one class, President George W. Bush’s speech on the evening of 9/11 was shown followed by a discussion, one mom noted.

Offering a “little devil’s advocate,” another mom questioned whether anyone has reached out to those in the community who suffered the loss of a loved one to see how they feel about the issue.

“Maybe it’s too hard on them,” she said. “Maybe the public involved in your personal loss is overwhelming.”

Others mentioned the importance of education about 9/11.

“It is an important part of our history that should be taught,” one mom opined. “I personally think that is more important at this point than the moment of silence.”

No Township Service

Unlike 2011 when services were held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 here, there were no official public services in Bernards Township this year.

Services have been conducted annually in many neighboring communities, including Bernardsville and Peapack-Gladstone, but the township has not held a public 9/11 commemoration each year.

In 2007, when the township did not hold any services, then Township Committeewoman Carolyn Kelly explained that the township “reached out’’ to the public and learned that residents preferred to mark the anniversary on their own.

“My sense of our community is the same as expressed by former Mayor Kelly five years ago,” said Committeeman Scott Spitzer when asked about the situation this week.

Nonetheless, he noted that he remains “open to hearing from residents on this who would like to participate in a more public event.”

Township Committeeman John Carpenter noted that the governing body observed a moment of silence at its meeting last Tuesday. He said there was no actual discussion of whether the township should hold an annual 9/11 commemoration.

“It’s an interesting question,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything from anybody one way or another. Perhaps we’re passively at the point where every five or 10 years is appropriate.”

Carpenter said he personally knew five of the township residents who died that day.

“Two of them were my neighbors,” he said.”They are never far from my mind. We on the committee will certainly never forget.”

“The anniversary is still a sad time for me and the events of that day still seem very vivid,” said Township Committeeman John Malay.

Regarding township services, he noted that the “statement by Carolyn Kelly has guided our decision in the ensuring years.”

“We felt that private or religious remembrances were most appropriate,” he said.

“The monument in Duham Park serves as a wonderful place to gather for families and friends.”

Committeewoman Carolyn Gaziano added that “it is important to remember and honor those lost while remaining sensitive to those most directly affected.”

“Services are held each year in Bernards Township through local churches and civic organizations in coordination with the township,” she said.

September 11 was designated as “Patriot Day,” a discretionary day of remembrance, by President Bush by resolution signed into law Dec. 18, 2001. As part of that resolution he requested that the American flag be flown at half staff and also asked for a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The proclamation also calls on Americans to participate in community service to honor those killed on 9/11. Like Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on December 7, Patriot Day is not an official federal holiday, however.

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