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(I) Marilyn, we usually ask people what brought you to Teaneck? When and how did you come here?
(N) In 1976, my husband and I faced a choice in living in New York City. I taught school; he was at that time involved in the computer department at Medical Center, Presbyterian Hospital. And we had a daughter who was neurologically impaired and we were unable to find education for her in New York so we were told by people at Medical Center. Well you face a choice. Either you spend money on a private school in New York or you can use that same money, pay for a house and we would suggest that you might want to look in Teaneck because it was their understanding that Teaneck had a superb public school special education program. We took that advice. There was a notice posted in the cardiology department that there was a house for sale in Teaneck on Carlton Terrace. We drove out and I had just learned that I was pregnant with our second child. We were in a three and a half room apartment and we drove out here and ironically discovered, we did not know this at the time, but the house was one block away 'from my husband's godparents who have Teaneck residents for many, many years, Esther and Myor Rosen. And so we took one look at the house, walked up on the steps and said, this is it. We didn't even come in the door. So that is ultimately how we discovered Teaneck and my husband, of course, had known it many years before due to his godparents and we contacted the public school and told them we were moving, did they have an appropriate placement for our child. They said yes. And we moved here in July of 1976.
(1) How old was your daughter then?
(N) Melody at that time was seven.
(1) That's interesting that the godparents should be here. Mr. & Mrs. Rosen have also been a part of the Teaneck Oral History Project.
(N) Well you couldn't have better people. They are just lovely.
(T) So you moved in and your daughter was seven and was enrolled in schoo1. And what were your experiences in the local schools?
(N) Extremely negative. I carne to Teaneck from a background in gifted education and special education and regular education having been in various graduate programs since 1961, having been a regular teacher since 1961 teaching various children with special needs, both gifted, gifted handicapped children and special needs children. And suddenly
(I) I am sorry, what were you teaching?
(N) English. I taught secondary English for grades 7, 8 and 9 in District 6 in New York City. And I came here and suddenly you must realize this was on a pre-women's lib time and though for my point of view, there had never been a pre and a post. And I came here and when I came with at least decent academic credentials of which one does not want to talk about, it is irrelevant of what one thinks in terms of finding a proper education for a child, but I was treated as though I didn't have a brain in my head and the first comment made was, my dear, what lovely earrings you have. And I wasn't the least bit concerned with what lovely earrings I had. I was concerned that my youngster was not receiving an appropriate education and try though I might, for reasons at that time I couldn't understand, I could not get a truly individualized program for her. Now this was a critical time in history because PL 94-142 was passed in 1975 and not implemented nationally and in New Jersey until 1977.
(I) You better elaborate on that.
(N) PL 94-142 is characterized as a bill of rights for handicapped children and it afforded $12 billion nationally to be allocated to various things called state plans which are written grants through the Federal government and based upon the needs described in these state plans, the states then are allocated X percentage of dollars from that $12 billion figure to provide services for handicapped children. Melody was and is a very gregarious adorable beautiful child who was a borderline youngster between being able to enter a regular program and needing supportive help. And I was extremely interested in assisting her to be mainstreamed and not to be educated with just handicapped children. And though I was always treated cordially and the person's name who at that time chaired the department was Dr. Bernard Shore and I was always treated cordially but in a manner that was meant to diffuse my requests. So ultimately at that time they needed a president for this special education association in Teaneck and being very pregnant, and being totally unknown to the community, I guess that that was near the end of my pregnancy I must have weighed at least 180/190 pounds, I looked a very benign roly-poly figure and nobody had any idea about the activism I brought with me being a veteran of the public education system in District 6 in New York which was a very volatile system so a lady appeared at my door and said Marilyn, we have no one for the presidency of the Special Education Association. Would you consider being that person? And I said, you don't know anything about me. How do you know that I am the right person for this job? She said, well, there isn't anybody else. So I said sure, I'll try. I have nothing to do. I am about to have a baby and it will give me something to do for a year. The irony of all of that is that I came to Teaneck literally for a rest. I had been working every year of my life in teaching and it was the first moment I had my own house, the first time I had been in a position where I didn't have to work. So I was relishing the idea of being a suburban housewife, doing all of the awful things you don't want to think about such as waxing your floor, tending your garden, having house beautiful. And that was absolutely my intention. I did not intend ever, ever again to become actively involved in advocacy for anything except making sure I had nice meals and I know this doesn't sound fashionable with the things that are cherished today but I cherished those things in terms of being a good wife and a good mother and I did not intend to do anything else. So I was elected to the position of Special Education president and very quickly learned that Mr. Shore and I were completely incompatible and so I began a newsletter for the Teaneck parents. And because I am a compulsive organizer and having been a school teacher for as many years as you have now been able to calculate, I am just trained that if I am given a job, I go through the papers first. Well I went through three shopping bags of papers that the former president of special education brought to me and I spent the summer reading every piece of paper in the three paper bags and organizing them and I discovered that the Teaneck Special Education Association was a non-profit organization, autonomous in its bylaws from the school district. Well naive as I was at the time, I took that at face value and within those papers learned that the Special Education Association was supposed to have a newsletter published monthly. Well here it was August, I had taken a job and suddenly if I was to believe what I read, I was to get a newsletter out. I had done newsletters in journalism with my junior high school children so that I felt comfortable in putting this together because it was something I had done as a professional. So I did. And published it as the bylaws said autonomously. Nobody approved it. I just simply did it. And all hell broke loose. And Mr. Shore did not like anything that I did. He wanted to control what was in the newsletter. He wanted to make sure all the special education meetings were in the public school. I said, I felt that was intimidating to the parents who had problems. I felt that I wanted it in a neutral place. Well, ultimately what happened was Mr. Shore together with approximately half a dozen of his people who are still working for the district and from my point of view, that is very important, they carne to my house and I can really characterize this as a lynch mob and Mr. Shore with half a dozen people, parents they had hand selected to come as well as parents of the Executive Board of the Special Education Association, there were about maybe fifteen to twenty of us sitting around the table in my dining room. And they proceeded to tell me that what I was doing was destructive, it was not positive, that Mr. Shore really should be the president of the organization. That I really wasn't suited. I didn't understand what my mission and goals were. I am paraphrasing but that was essentially what happened. And I told them that I felt they were wrong. I, in essence, I called Mr. Shore, and he is now deceased; but it hasn't changed my mind in the least he is a crook, and he was indictable. And though at the time I didn't have that proof, later we got that proof and that is ultimately why Mr. Shore left the school district because we found out that he was here with false credentials, nobody had ever checked. But we didn't know about it at the time of this infamous meeting. So 1 said.., they wanted me to resign. I said I will not resign but you can impeach me. Well they didn't. But finally it got to the point where I found the incompetence, I found the efforts and intimidations nothing less than boring and while I am willing to work very hard for something which is interesting, it can be annoying, it can be debilitating in terms of the energy expended, but I will not allow it to be boring or I don't want to be involved. And it became boring for me. So I tendered my resignation as president of the Special Education Association.
(I) I just have to interrupt one moment to get a little better time frame. You moved in July, became president immediately and this newsletter was published immediately the first month that you were here in August or September. This is all the very first year that you were here.
(N) That's right. It was immediate.
(I) And before your son had actually arrived.
(N) Correct. Because that was the reason I had accepted the job was because I knew I was about to give birth to my son and I planned on nursing him and being home and doing all of those things so really I jumped into Teaneck with both feet and my eyes completely shut not having any idea what I was getting into. So we then tried to figure out how...
(I) Where did you get your information for the first newsletter? If you were brand new?
(N) Let me explain. Remember I told you that I was a compulsive worker and I had haggled through those three bags of records that had been dropped literally on my doorstep and I had seen the superb job that of Bernadine Harford who had been president of the organization had done. That Sandra Glick had done. It is interesting that both of those ladies were presidents of the board of education. They had done a marvelous job with that organization and then for reasons that were never put in the records, something happened. It simply began to become a carte blanche organization for the good of the administration rather than for the good of the children. And it was not clear to me why that occurred nor is it clear to me now. I think it may have been just simply a question of the personalities of people who were the presidents, those two ladies being very singularly minded and self-motivated and I think perhaps the people who followed them were less so and that not being a negative statement about the predecessors, rather just a comment on the difference of personalities and styles. So the critical factor being and I have alluded to it already that 1975 was a critical time in history via legislation because of the passage of PL 94-142 so that in going over the papers, I say that there indeed had been newsletters published but there had not been anything published in terms of rights. It had been a more benign approach just in terms of our meeting is and really more of a PR job in terms of how marvelous the programs are, what a terrific job we are doing, that kind of thing. But these were not teaching newsletters. It wasn't a sharing of information, it was not controlled if you will by people who perhaps did not want the parents to have certain pieces of information which would then force the district to do at least hypothetically what it might not be so inclined to do. Particularly under that regime. So the first newsletter dealt with PL 94-142. It explained what it was; it explained to the parents what their rights were; it explained what IEP is. Now you have to understand, this was a very amateurish job in terms of what under a different organization named the Parent Information Center developed (Ed-Pac) and we will get into that in a minute but the predecessor of that newsletter began as my attempt to facilitate and implement the guidelines of the Teaneck Special Education Association which required such a newsletter so in answer to your question in a kind of round-about way, what went into it was information dealing with what their rights were and the rights of their children and what district was supposed to be doing under PL 94-142. Now interestingly enough, in the same year, 1975, when PL 94-142 was passed within the state of New Jersey, there had been an ongoing law suit, Robinson vs. Cahill, and that law suit dealt with the inequality of the educational programs based upon the tax of property. So that in 1975, a radically new portion of New Jersey law was implemented called Chapter XII which is otherwise characterized as T&E otherwise known as "thorough and efficient" which is the phrase from the New Jersey constitution so that the sub-chapter within the Jersey statute, sub-chapter 3, implemented a type of funding for special education in New Jersey also which none of the parents whether they were parents of special needs children or parents of regular children or parents or gifted children knew about. Literally you see nobody knew anything about education. Once we began to ask questions, we realized gosh, this isn't just special ed parents who don't know, nobody knows. The access to information really doesn't exist. So June, that's when I first met you when I had gotten involved in special education, resigned and became involved in P.T.A. Council and a fascinating thing occurred, namely the Teaneck Special Education Association still had me doing their newsletters for a time. Two or three months. And then, until they got a hand-selected president who then said you can't do this anymore. I said fine. Within those three months, we had gotten a hold from Senator Feldman a flyer in terms of T&E, what it meant, what it was. And learned that literally nobody knew what it was. It was this great phrase that nobody understood, including these most particularly people within the public schools, so that one of the last issues of the Teaneck newsletter was the publishing of that flyer we had gotten from Senator Feldman. And we knew something was amiss when we went to a P.T.A Council meeting and it may even have been, I think it was in your house, Naomi Kramer, it was in her house, and a fellow who was an administrator who has since left the district, and the newsletter had just arrived in the Teaneck mailboxes that day and he had brought this flyer and it is interesting, Margaret Angeli was at that meeting as well, she is now the new president of the board of education and she can confirm the story, it is a wonderful story, and he pulled out this flyer and said, and this is what the district has published without knowing that within that very meeting there were at least twenty people who were members of the information Center who had received that through the Special Ed Association and we said, uh oh, something is really wrong and I said, gee sir, I don't think it is important to name him since he is no longer here, I said that really isn't accurate. You had nothing to do with it. I said, this was paid for by the Teaneck Special Education Association through our efforts. This is not a school district product. That kind of was the icing on the cake. Not only did special education not work, not only was the information inaccurate but then we began to see it was pervasive. So following that I think we are now at the end of 77, in chronology, there is a fascinating interlude here. We tried to, when I say we, it is always my husband and I, Ray and I worked as a team in every respect and that is also true in terms of special education, we could not understand how Bernard Shore could get away with what he did. Couldn't understand it. So what we did was to research, we got ahold because I had all the data from the Special Education Newsletters that had gone on in years past and by this time the man would have been here about twenty years, so we started to backtrack his record and went to the Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry where he had said he was from. I am very comfortable saying this on tape because all this is written down and has been shared with various people so that I am not the least bit sensitive about this. I hope you are not either. Because I think it is interesting. And we come to find out he is presenting himself to the Teaneck Board of Education twenty years prior as a principal from Dobbs Ferry and he had said experiences regarding curriculum and specialized areas. Well we contacted Dobbs Ferry as I told you and virtually none of those things were true. He had presented himself at various times as having a doctorate; he never had a doctorate. And I think what concerned us was not only were the credentials false, but that nobody had gone back to check. And that what he had gotten away with in terms of setting up a system in Teaneck which was harmful to children that there did not seem to be a professional who was publicly willing to blow the whistle. There were many who spoke privately, who wrung their hands and said, something is going to happen, but nobody was willing to take a public stand. Rae Raisbeck was subsequent president of the Special Education Association and she has now moved to Tennessee but Rae and my husband became very active in trying to understand why black children in Teaneck seemed to be far more represented in special education than white children. So they took the enrollment which was always given to the president of the Special Education Association and literally made a door to door canvas in the northeast section of Teaneck to find out accurate data and they developed a giant map of Teaneck and put a pin in to represent each classified youngster in Teaneck and it was an enormous project as you can imagine. I think at that time there were 1,100 classified children in Teaneck; there are 1,200 now. I haven't been involved in a number of years but I think it is approximately 1/3. It is extraordinary. And so my husband and Rae stood up and presented this map at a Teaneck board of education meeting in the presence of Bernard Shore. Now there must have been 200 to 300 people. It was packed at Thomas Jefferson or wherever it was in those days. And after Rae presented this map, the mouths dropped on the faces of the board of education and Shore jumped up and he ran down, it was a marvelous theater, and he ran down to the microphone and he said, Liars figure and figures lie. That was his statement. And he proceeded to give his version of the statistical data of white children and black children in Teaneck because he presented himself as a great liberal which was indeed a farce because he never was at all and I will give you a post script on that in a moment. So my husband was at that meeting and his area is statistics and scientific aspects of evaluating and so he wrote down the numbers and then checked at a county office and at the following board meeting, got up in the presence of Shore who was aware that the heat was on and said, well perhaps liars figure and figures lie but this is the data and Shore had reversed the numbers. He had given the number of the black children for the whites and the number for the white children to the blacks. He had exactly reversed the numbers. So, and again all of this is part of board minutes someplace, I am not saying anything that is not publicly known. I said I would give you a post script. Shortly thereafter, Shore resigned. In the meantime, I had written a monograph on Shore as to all of the quite remarkable things he had done to staff, his own staff and when some of them found out I was doing this research project, called and shared certain information and I called him and said, Shore, I have a book you might want to see. Maybe we can work something out. You leave and I don't publish the book. And that's exactly what happened. I brought the monograph in, he said, well that's not so and I called my husband and it is funny because my husband said, Marilyn, are we going to do this the rest of our lives? Don't we want to do something else? And at the time I said, yes, but I said we've got to work this out. We just can't leave this man here. So the minute, and I hadn't slept in days because I was so enraged at this man whom I honestly felt and to this day feel was a criminal, was a crook under completely false credentials. And he had been allowed to get away with it. And the tragedy presently is that the same people he hired are still here, many of the same people, so my husband immediately left the hospital, came home, said I won't let you go into that man unless I am there and Shore said, I want you in my office in a half hour. Bring the book. And it wasn't a book of course; it was a manuscript. And I did. And when I showed him what I had, he visibly turned white and every time he would try to lie, it didn't happen, I would say, there is your signature. You did do it. And the rest is history. That's the Teaneck chapter.
(I) When we first started this conversation, you said you carne, you chose Teaneck because it had as you were told, a superb special education department. If this is what you found here, then and this was supposed to be the best, what did you find around? What positive aspects were there in the Teaneck system?
(N) The positive parts of the Teaneck system were you had isolated instances of brilliant, dedicated teaching and there was a schism between administrative incompetence and it was wholly incompetent across the boards and absolutely brilliant, dedicated teachers. In special education, there were three or four marvelous, superb, innately gifted teachers so that the virtue of the system was that though you had to wade through enormous convolutions and difficulties administratively, if you were able to find that one, two, three or four gifted teacher for your child, you were in great shape. I was very fortunate in that Melody's first year in terms of she was in what is called a self-contained program meaning that they were not placed with non-handicapped children but rather were isolated with other handicapped children of similar or like handicapping conditions. Her teacher was Vera D'Italia who is now Mrs. Denham and Vera was brilliant. She was instinctive, she was totally committed to quality education for those children. I can honestly say that I did not find ever a teacher of Vera's quality in the remainder of the system. So that having her as the first teacher spoiled us for what came after. There Dorothea Rodda was Melody's supplemental teacher after we had gone through due process and various other things to get her out of special education per se in Teaneck and Dorothea was assigned to her when we finally got Melody out and got her into a regular program; at Eugene Field which was our neighborhood school. Dorothea was an angel sent from heaven so to speak because she was like Vera but older, more experienced, calm and exactly what Melody needed. She was superb. We then did not find another teacher ever to equal Vera D'Italia but we found great supportive help. By that time, our
(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) In addition to Vera and Dorothea Rodda
(N) When we got to Thomas Jefferson High School, there were enormous problems. That's an understatement. And we were fortunate in having Brenda Klotz who was, who provided supplemental instruction for Melody and Brenda was extremely helpful so I would say in all of our years in Teaneck with Melody, those were the three that stand out in my memory as providing quality care but when one considers all of the numbers of children, of teachers the children with special needs come in contact with, I think it is a sad commentary that you can only come up with three names. You might like a little footnote. Jonathan is a gifted child. He is one of those scary gifted children who is absolutely good and brilliant and talented in everything and at the age of three, he informed me he was now ready for school and he really was. And there was no place in Teaneck for him and he was exactly the opposite problem as Melody. So we enrolled him at Grace Lutheran School and at various times, explored putting him back in the public system because I had been a public school teacher all my life. I was an advocate of public education and was looking forward to finally a positive involvement with the system because here I had this delicious, beautiful, utterly brilliant kid and I thought, ooh, he'll be fine. And so there was a changeover of administration at Grace Lutheran mid-year so that we felt that it was important for Jonathan to put him in the public school so, as I told you earlier regarding Melody, that Eugene Field was our neighborhood school. It has undergone an administrative change and I had gone into to meet with the building principal. I explained that Jonathan was extraordinarily gifted. Jonathan also has epilepsy which is controlled but it presents itself in terms of being hypersensitive, etc. and so we took him in and in a day and a half, he was exhibiting the most bizarre behaviors at home I had ever seen in my life. I couldn't believe it was our son. And I had viewed two classes at Eugene Field, one they told me was the open classroom; the other was what they called traditional. Well Jonathan is a very traditional child. He is highly internally structured and he does not do well in a situation where there is a lot of moving around. He doesn't respond to that because it probably gives him problems in concentration. So what I saw in that traditional classroom before agreeing to put him in it was, I didn't know it at the time, was a class with only about a quarter of the children in it. The rest all being out on supplemental help; all being out someplace else. But I was never told that. So that when I said, honey, what's wrong? And he was afraid to tell me. The second day, I went to the school and saw that little boy placed between children who were being held back two years, twice his size and I came to find out were demanding lunch money from him, abusing him and I am not even going to go into the manner in which they were abusing him but it was physical abuse as well as psychological abuse. The class was totally uncontrolled. And Dorothea Rodda came by as the tears were streaming down my face as I was looking in the window at this little boy, desperately wanting to learn in a class that I had been told was fine and I found out later was a class where they put children who were being retained or who had various problems. It was a zoo in there. So I literally went in and I took him out and I was told by the principal, you can't do that. You have to leave him here. And I said, is that right? And I took him out of the building and I have never been back in. So I think the point of my story is that if you have a child who is either one end or the other, who is either slower or who is very bright, that the system is not geared to either of those kinds of children and so I am now in a position where I don't feel comfortable commenting on the public system because Jonathan is in private school at great, I have to say, financial sacrifice for our family but we feel we have no alternative and Melody is now on a work-study program, a full time work program, at the Presbyterian Hospital. So that's my little barometer in terms of either end of the spectrum with our two children. What else would you like to know?
(I) Well I would like to know more about your activities in the town. Now we left your activities with the newsletter for the special ed. And then you progressed to other and larger responsibilities.
(N) What those responsibilities consisted of was the following: through the experience in working with Teaneck Special Education Association and the story I told you at Naomi Kramer's house, friends I had met in the community and I discussed often over coffee and very informally the fact that no place in this state was there accurate and ongoing information about research, about legislation, about anything. You couldn't find out information. So we agreed that we would try to start an autonomous newsletter. We weren't sure how we would go about that but we were going to try something. I ran an ad in the Teaneck Shopper and also in the Bergen Record stating that a meeting was being held for anyone who was interested in starting a new newspaper whose focus would be education in general. Not just special education but education in general. There were about 15 responses. The responses, with the exception of one, were all from Teaneck.
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