A controversial policy that required Collingswood public schools to call police for nearly every incident of student misbehavior has been "reversed," Mayor James Maley said.
The change comes after parents complained that their children, some as young as 7, were questioned by law enforcement for incidents such as roughhousing on the way to the cafeteria, allegedly making a racist comment at a third-grade class party, and a playground fight between two middle school boys.
"It's resolved," Maley said Wednesday. "Fixed, finished, done."
But parents in the borough of 14,000 residents continue to voice confusion - and fury - over the district's launch of the policy in late May.
Parents, who were not informed about the change until after the school year ended, have demanded a public meeting with borough and school officials, along with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, to address their concerns. Some say officials should be held accountable for the failure to communicate with parents.
"Maybe resignations. Certainly apologies," said Michael Lovell, whose 8-year-old son attends Zane North Elementary School, when asked what outcome he would favor.
The district began contacting police more often after the Camden County Prosecutor's Office called a May 25 meeting with school officials and police to reinforce school incident-reporting standards. The meeting was prompted by a serious incident at Collingswood High School that had been reported to police, but only after a delay. Maley would not discuss the incident, saying it is still under investigation.
Since then, police were called to schools in the 1,875-student district sometimes as often as five times a day, Superintendent Scott Oswald estimated.
Parents did not receive any formal notification of that increase until School Board President David Routzahn and Police Chief Kevin Carey each put out a statement Monday, long after parents had bombarded the district with complaints.
After Maley spoke Tuesday with Camden County Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo, he and the Prosecutor's Office issued statements clarifying that the change had been the result of a misunderstanding between the Prosecutor's Office and school officials. Maley said the Prosecutor's Office had never intended to require schools to report all incidents to police, just to report serious events more promptly.
But that account is disputed. Both Oswald and Carey said the directive to change the protocol was clear, and Oswald said representatives from the Prosecutor's Office insisted on it at the May 25 meeting despite "vehement" opposition from school leadership.
Parents are hoping that a public meeting will answer their remaining questions.
Pam Gessert, who has two children at William P. Tatem Elementary School, said she had called the Prosecutor's Office several times seeking more information but had not received satisfactory answers.
"I don't feel that [the Prosecutor's Office] was forthcoming," said Gessert, who called on Colalillo to attend a public meeting. "I think their office seems to be totally passing the buck."
Maley said no public meeting is currently planned, and the school board is not scheduled to meet again until Aug. 29.
Jacqueline Wolfe, whose 7-year-old son was questioned by police in early June, said Wednesday that the lack of information about her own case and the overall policy has been unacceptable.
Wolfe said that around noon one school day, her son Tory was roughhousing with a fellow second grader in line for lunch at Tatem when a teacher said their play had become too aggressive, and the school called the police.
After speaking with two police officers along with his principal, Tory thought he had been "arrested for playing with his friend," his mother said. He has been too shy and upset to speak about the incident for nearly a month, she added.
Wolfe said she did not hear about the scuffle until nearly 3 p.m., hours after it happened, when a Collingswood police officer knocked on her front door.
A lack of communication with parents has characterized the procedural change from beginning to end, she said.
"The school never notified any of the parents that the policies had been instituted, and without having an officer at my door I wouldn't have known," Wolfe said. "The whole situation has been handled poorly."
Wolfe said she is comfortable sending Tory, along with his 10-year-old brother, to Tatem in the fall, but only if it is clear to her that the policy has been reversed.
Carey said police and school officials will work together to establish guidelines for reporting incidents to police before school resumes in the fall.
And Maley said better communication between schools and the Prosecutor's Office is "going to be mandatory."
"We could have avoided all of this with a phone call," he said.