Southern Regional School Board Applauds Braddock, Hears Complaint About Trips Policy

By David Biggy | Nov 20, 2019

Stafford Township — The Southern Regional Board of Education meeting of Nov. 13 had a bit of a celebratory feel to it, as the board recognized the recent accomplishments of boys cross-country standout Jackson Braddock. As part of the “educational highlights” portion of the board’s monthly gathering, Superintendent Craig Henry called coach Scott Baker and Braddock to the podium to be honored by the board. After viewing a video of Braddock being interviewed following the Shore Conference Championships, which Henry said inspired him, the superintendent spoke of a time when he hadn’t known much about the junior.

“He was just a name to me until recently,” Henry said. “He was a shortstop I used to sit out and watch in left field at the middle school baseball complex. He was a phenomenal baseball player, just tremendously gifted, and I couldn’t wait to see where his baseball career was going to go.

“But then I started hearing about Jackson Braddock the runner, and I wondered how those two worlds were going to collide. Last year, I was in the cardio room and saw this young man on the bike every day, and at the time I didn’t realize he was recovering from an injury.”

Baker, who briefly described the injury and Jackson’s road to getting back in action this fall, said Braddock runs “like a gazelle.”

“Through every up and down he’s had, he’s always maintained that focus about what he can do for the team, how the team can get better,” the coach said as he addressed the board. “He’s never so high or so low. He’s always driven and focused, and if something doesn’t go his way, he moves on.”

Prior to the meeting, Braddock was in the midst of training for the upcoming NJSIAA Group IV meet after becoming Southern’s first male runner to win Ocean County, Shore Conference and South Jersey Group IV titles in the same season. Baker said Jackson was ranked as the top junior runner in New Jersey and seventh nationally.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I haven’t seen this drive from anybody,” Baker said. “And I can’t be more pleased he’s being honored here tonight.”

After stepping to the podium, Braddock briefly explained his philosophy of running.

“I just try to inspire as many guys as I can through my running,” he said. “That’s my goal. Running individually is one thing, but to have 80 guys behind me running to their potential is another thing. It picks up the whole program.”

Following the stint with Baker and Braddock and the board business seemingly light, the rare occasion when somebody from the public stepped to the mic to speak brought a more somber element to the meeting. The individual who stepped forward, Robert Matthews – speaking on behalf of his daughter, Kailey, a senior student at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science (MATES) – brought forth a concern about a policy regarding the senior class trip.

In September, Kailey Matthews addressed the board, asking it to consider her eligible to attend Southern’s senior class trip, under the premise that she was part of the girls swimming program and a Spanish Club member and she therefore should have the ability to attend the senior trip with some of her friends.

Currently, Southern policy states that students at MATES or any of the other schools or academies within the Ocean County Vocational Technical School system, who otherwise live within the district, are permitted to compete in athletic programs and participate in extracurricular clubs that are not offered at their particular school.

The board has held to its policy and concluded that students who are scheduled to graduate at another school – including Kailey Matthews – are not permitted to attend the Southern senior class trip, on the basis that those students are not part of Southern’s senior class and belong to another school’s senior class, Henry explained after the meeting.

Nonetheless, Robert Matthews, a Southern graduate with at least one other child in the district, expressed his displeasure with the board’s decision.

“I’m a bit disappointed and concerned about what I’ve gone through with my daughter,” he said as he addressed the board. “She’s an extremely proud Ram as well as a member of the MATES community, and she went to pay for the senior trip and was told she couldn’t attend. We found out there were some policies in place and through an OPRA request, Mr. Terhune (Business Administrator Steve Terhune) provided me with those, and I don’t see anything in the policies that preclude my daughter from attending.

“I ask the board that my daughter and any other student in the same situation be able to attend the school functions that she doesn’t have the ability to attend at MATES.”

Robert Matthews also made reference to a policy revision that was slated for first reading at the Nov. 13 meeting – one that reinforced and clarified the current policy, as well as added a clause outlining a student’s eligibility for “participation in field trips” – and deemed “it may be discriminatory against certain public laws regarding educational opportunities Kailey and other students may be afforded.”

The policy, No. 5850, dated February 1998 and titled “Social Events and Class Trip,” states the following: “Participation in school events is not a right and may be denied to any student who has demonstrated disregard for the rules of the school ... without the due process of notice and an opportunity to be heard.”

The revision slated for approval clarified the eligibility as a Southern student, stating “a student must be a Southern Regional School District enrollee taking a minimum of 20 credits from courses listed in the Board of Education’s approved Program of Study. The Board will not permit persons not enrolled in this district to participate in social events or class trips.”

Robert Matthews said he hadn’t read the policy revision, but said he didn’t agree with it based on information he had received from Principal Eric Wilhelm.

“I have the deposit check and I’m looking forward to getting her ready to go on the senior class trip,” Matthews said as he concluded. “I hope there are no other issues that would preclude her.”

Henry said afterward that nothing is expected to change with the Matthews situation. Henry explained that students who are part-timers at Southern and also take coursework at OCVTS schools and academies during a regular school day always have been fully eligible to participate in trips because they are part of Southern’s enrolled student body, but students who are full time at OCVTS schools and academies are not.

“She’s not part of our senior class. She’s going to graduate from a different school with her name on a diploma that’s not from Southern,” Henry said. “We allow as a courtesy to MATES and other OCVTS students who are not in our district the opportunity to compete in our sports programs and participate in our after-school clubs when they don’t have those opportunities at those schools. We give them the chance to experience certain things because they don’t have those opportunities, but otherwise those students aren’t Southern students.”

Henry further maintained that anything related to field trips, class trips or proms is always at the discretion of administrators, and reiterated that such policies are in place with regard to Southern students only – not students enrolled full time in other schools.

“We can’t be accountable for a student who’s not in our school,” he said. “I’m sure she’s a nice young lady, but the bottom line is she’s not enrolled as a member of our student body. We just can’t allow a student who goes to another school on our senior trip.”

— David Biggy

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