South Orange Middle School students today protested the denial of tenure to two Social Studies teachers, Steven Cohen and Kathleen McCort. About 100 current and former students gathered in front of SOMS chanting and holding signs that read, "Don't Let Go of Cohen," and "Save Ms. McCort."
Both teachers were denied tenure this spring by the South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education. Some parents, such as Sam Stoloff, found this decision "shocking." Stoloff, a parent of a current eight grader who has Cohen for Social Studies, said, "He is the best teacher Anya has ever had. He has extremely high expectations for kids, and asks them to engage in material that's challenging." Stoloff added that his daughter "has become engaged, and that's very exciting to us."
Speaking for the Board of Education, Suzanne Turner noted, "By law, administrators and Board of Education members are not permitted to publicly discuss personnel matters. The District will therefore not comment on any decisions to renew or not renew a teacher's contract."
Cohen declined to comment, and Patch was not able to reach McCort.
Inside the school, students posted flyers in support of the two teachers. (One is pictured.) A number of Columbia High and SOMS students joined a Facebook group in support of the teachers; several plan to attend tonight's Board of Education meeting, as well.
The demonstration, which lasted about half an hour, was peaceful, and overseen by two South Orange police officers. Two CHS freshmen, both of whom are preparing to take the World History Advanced Placement exam this week, credited Cohen's class last year with preparing them for this year's advanced work. Both hoped to speak directly to the principal, Joseph Uglialoro, new this year. "I want to tell him," said one student, "that we wouldn't do this for just any teacher. Mr. Cohen is special."
Patch will continue to follow this story.