McKenna: After A Full Year of School Closures, Have Suburban NJ Districts Lost Parents’ Trust?March 30, 2021
Get Kids Connected: On Wednesday, Join the Day of Action to Get Students Connected to BroadbandMarch 30, 2021
Students in New Jersey school districts — primarily large urban ones — have been home for 13 months and, given the just-issued report on learning loss, that’s not good news. Right now 302,000 of the state’s 1.35 million public school students are still on full-time remote instruction schedules.
- In Trenton, students have been home since March 17th, 2020 and Interim Superintendent Alfonso Q. Llano said they are currently hoping for a hybrid reopening in May. Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said the local teachers’ union has been raising concerns. “The stumbling block seems to be teachers who don’t want to go back to classrooms unless they believe their safety will be optimized,” Gusciora said. While he sympathizes with them, he says “it would be tragic” for remote instruction to continue. “We have a high truancy rare on Zoom learning,” Gusciora said, adding that students also are missing out on extra curricular activities.
- Paterson Public Schools is hoping for a May 3d reopening but the Paterson Education Association wants to tour the school buildings before giving a thumbs-up, citing concerns about proper ventilation and accommodations for social distancing. The Star-Ledger reports that Paterson Education Association president John McEntee said, “we not saying ‘no’ to reopening, we are saying that, before the board of education makes a decision on reopening, they need to give the union an opportunity to inspect their work.”
- Jersey City has a tentative reopening date of April 26th, although in this rapidly-gentrifying city parents are leery; a recent district survey found that only 38% of parents were planning on sending their children in for live instruction. (Only half of surveys are back.) Jersey City School Deputy Superintendent Norma Fernandez said she doesn’t expect that number to change much and called it a “surprise.” She said, “I expected much higher.”
- In Newark, the district has purchased air purifiers, desktop barriers, and hundreds of thousands of face masks, and is requiring teachers to test negative before returning to school buildings. Teachers are eligible for coronavirus vaccines and schools are scheduled to reopen in April. NJ Spotlight reports that the Newark Teachers Union is pushing the district to test all middle and high students for infection on a regular basis. “We believe it’s a prerequisite,” said union President John Abeigon. “Our concern is asymptomatic kids giving it to each other and bringing the virus home.”
Big urban districts in New Jersey aren’t the only ones having trouble reopening.The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that in three NJ suburban districts –Montclair, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and South Orange-Maplewood — parents are suing their districts to reopen. A Montclair resident, Steven Baffico, is a member of a group called Jersey 1st which helps parents with litigation. Baffico says parents in “about 30 districts” in NJ have reached out for guidance. In addition to those three suburban districts, another 14 are organizing themselves to press suits:
Plaintiffs say they understand teachers’ concerns about coronavirus, but studies show risks are low when schools take safety steps—and their children are anxious, lonely and losing their zest for learning due to remote schooling…Allyson Colónin West Orange had resisted litigation but said she met virtually with more than a dozen parents this week to discuss the possibility after goal posts for reopening kept changing. ‘I love my teachers,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want there to be any perception of there being a divide where I’m attacking them, or implying that I want them to be in a situation that is not safe…I love them but I love my kids more.’