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Rachel Keane of West Orange is a registered nurse and mother of two children, ages 2 and 5. This was first published at nj.com.
At first glance, a law that allows school districts to replace snow days with virtual learning days sounds fair and impartial. The benefit of this law would be that families of financial means and school faculty can attend to their summer vacation plans on time, rather than spend the tail-end of June making up for snow days in order to fulfill the 180-day school requirement.
This bill expands opportunities for remote education in the place of weather emergencies, public health emergencies, states of emergency, or other reasons deemed fit by the district. This legislation is dangerous in that it broadly affords school administrators way too many opportunities to plug “virtual learning” (a disastrous oxymoron) in place of in-person school almost whenever the district’s administration deems it necessary, and only with retroactive and inadequately promised oversight.
Undoubtedly, the aforementioned benefits to those eager to hop on a plane to Aruba or road trip to summer camp would be completely overshadowed by gross, unchecked negligence on the part of school bureaucrats.
The socioeconomically diverse landscape of New Jersey does not allow for a bill like this to withstand the needs of the families and children of the state.
A bill whose purpose is meant to honor and benefit vacation plans for the wealthy, albeit to the detriment of the actual education of millions of children, can never become law in this state. Moreover, the fact that it was even conceived of, written and passed in the Senate unanimously speaks to how out of touch our state legislators are. This bill is nothing short of an embarrassment.
A bill like this one presumes goodwill on the part of school administrators, teachers’ unions, and school board members. This simply isn’t a universal reality in the 600 New Jersey districts. Many of the residents of poorer, larger districts are, for various reasons, not able to engage in local politics. This makes students and families in various districts in New Jersey easier to cheat out of in-person school days. Their difficulty self-advocating should not be preyed upon, but will be if this bill passes.”
The bill presumes, rather ignorantly, that “public health emergencies” may not come again, and that if they do, closing schools will be appropriate. Surely if the past two years have taught us anything, it is that our schools must close last and open first in the event of a pandemic or epidemic.
Lastly, and most importantly, the bill is a slap in the face to the children and families of New Jersey who have suffered through remote “learning” for two years, and even continue to incrementally suffer remote school now at the drop of a hat.
Children cannot learn through computer screens, and not all caregivers have the time, patience, energy, sobriety, or literacy to engage and/or supervise the process. Children cannot attend necessary therapies through computer screens; remote school is an unmitigated disaster for English language learners, special education students and students who rely on school for lunch.
This is a bill borne out of and for the privileged and elite, and it blindly disregards the needs and realities of the millions of families in New Jersey whose wellness doesn’t hinge on summer vacation getting cut short by two or three days because of snow days during the school year.
So please, for the sake of the children and families of New Jersey, do not codify the greatest public policy disaster of our lifetimes into law. If we have learned anything from this pandemic, we should be doing everything possible to preserve in-person education, and not shy away from it