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Below is a letter, dated yesterday, from Lakewood attorney Michael Inzelbuch to the leaders of the Lakewood Education Association, Kimberlee Shaw and Tracy Paolantonio. Lakewood Public Schools, Inzelbuch informs the union officers, “is committed to provide full-time in person education for the 2020-2021 school year” and asks for a meeting to discuss a mandatory COVID testing plan for staff members.
For context, Lakewood, distinguishing itself from other New Jersey school districts, held in-person Extended School Year programs for students with disabilities this summer and plans to hold full-day in-person school for all public school students. (Three other school districts are doing this, including Hoboken. See here for coverage.) The union opposes this plan. At the last Board meeting Lakewood Education Association President Kimberlee Shaw said, according to the Asbury Park Press, that her membership “has grave concerns about the district’s school facilities reopening plan.”
“They are having difficulties keeping the building clean and hygienic during the summer when a small number of people are in the building so we are worried about September,” Shaw said. “The district’s plan doesn’t put the health and safety of our students and staff first and that’s a serious problem, especially when you factor in the numbers of students in each building and the inability to safely social distance everyone.”
In a discussion among board members and administrators, Superintendent Laura Winters admitted that the district doesn’t have enough laptops for all students to access online instruction. “Even if we ordered it,” said Winters, “I’m not to sure we would get in time.”
At this same meeting, Fiscal Coordinator Robert Fingers asked the board, “how are we going to figure out that everyone is taken care of?” He added, “here’s the problem: we don’t have a budget right now. We have no idea what we’re going to get as additional state aid or as a loan. We are flying by the seat of our pants spending money that we may in fact not even have by the end of September.”
Last Tuesday Gov. Phil Murphy changed the NJ Department of Education’s guidance, which mandated some element of in-person instruction for all students, to another mandate that all districts provide students with the option of full-time remote instruction. So the Lakewood Board of Education amended its reopening plan (see this letter) to this:
Fulltime remote learning via an online virtual curriculum program, will take place from September 4, 2020, and continue through December 23, 2020.
That virtual curriculum provider, which will not involve Lakewood staff, is Educere. The deadline for parents to apply for this option is today.
One potentially-related result of full-time in-person instruction: According to NJSchoolJobs, Lakewood is looking to fill 25 vacancies, including a Business Administrator. See here for teachers who are taking early retirement –not just in Lakewood –out of fear of contagion for themselves and their families.
And keep an eye on this: Last Thursday Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Pamela Lampitt and Joann Downey announced that they would propose a bill requiring that all schools stay closed until October 31st, with all students receiving remote instruction. At that date, schools would reconsider reopening buildings. That would throw a wrench into Lakewood’s plans, especially given the district’s lack of access to laptops and internet for students.
Here’s Inzelbuch’s letter, dated yesterday:
Sunday , August 2020
Dear Ms. Paolantonio and Ms. Shaw:
I hope this email finds you doing well .
As you are well aware , the Lakewood Board of Education, its Administrators, and staff members continue to be committed to fulfilling our Constitutional obligation to provide each and every public school student in Lakewood with a “Thorough and Efficient” (“ T and E “) education.
In my opinion , I have seen no other school district in New Jersey as committed to its public school students in providing quality education despite the current pandemic including, but not limited, to the provision of chrome books in record time , technology , home visits, daily contact, guidance services , daily interactive instruction , in person evaluations , in person therapies, in person educational opportunities , continued video interactive services this summer, and the provision of Bilingual services and instruction and information to our parents/ guardians by more than 30 plus Bilingual staff.
I speak from the vantage point of seeing our public school staff “in action “ daily ,and, as a parent attorney , who , sadly, has seen nothing but utter chaos across the State primarily based on local school districts action, or , inaction .
The Lakewood School District recognizes that while virtual learning can be an emergency short term “ gap filler”, at best , however, for the vast majority of students there is a significant drop off in the quality of education when in-person education is not provided.
Furthermore, we are all aware of the unique circumstances of our student population that makes distance learning more difficult, and, the host of issues it creates for our working parents, many of whom work numerous jobs without job security and such benefits as flex time , health coverage, vacation/ sick time, etc.
To that end the Lakewood School District , as you know, has committed to provide full-time in person education for the 2020-2021 school year.
Although it would be easier to implement a “hybrid learning” Plan, the Superintendent and Board are requesting that the District as a whole, rise to the challenge ,and implement a safe and effective full in-person learning experience .
Paramount to the Board and Administration is the health and safety of its students and staff members.
Thank G-d , the District is meeting and exceeding the recommend safety protocols as contained in the District’s 200 plus page “Rod Back Plan – Restart and Recovery Plan ” ,in part, based on actual experience in providing much needed in person educational experiences since May 2020 .
One of our newest offerings is to make available certified health providers ( CHEMED and OHI) to provide COVID-19 testing to all employees, at no charge .( In the event that the employees would prefer to have their own provider conduct the testing the District is willing to reimburse the costs of testing not covered by the employees’ insurance carrier.)
For months our great Governor has stressed that “testing, testing, testing” is one of the essential keys to safely reopening our State, and the Lakewood Board of Education intends to follow this guidance.
We are sure that you and the other members of the LAA / LEA leadership, as well as the NJEA as a whole, would agree that we should take all steps to make sure in-person education is as safe as possible for our students and staff.
As such, on behalf of the Board, I am requesting that the LEA meet to discuss the implementation of a District funded mandatory testing program during the pendency of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Please advise when we can discuss further .
Michael I. Inzelbuch
State Dept of Education
So as to best service all our clients during COIVID -19