By Randy Bergmann
Will students and staff be safe in the schools that fully re-open or adopt the hybrid model? With most set to open next week, the answers should come quickly.
But as the clock ticks down, many districts, teacher groups and parents are becoming increasingly nervous.
The state School Boards Association released a followup to its school restart plan on Monday that was chocked full of concerns, mostly related to lack of funding for necessary safety upgrades and the failures of the federal government, the Murphy administration and Legislature to take steps needed to provide a safe, educationally sound environment.
Read the NJSBA report “Choosing the Best ‘Road Back’ for Our Children here: https://www.njsba.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/August-31-FINAL.pdf
This comes on top of the reservations expressed all along by the NJEA and local teacher unions, including the one in Lakewood – the only public school district in Ocean County to opt for a full, five-day-a-week return to classes.
Read the NJEA’s “Suggested Minimum Acceptable Standards for a Return to In-person Instruction here: https://www.njea.org/COVID-19/
Among other things, the NJSBA report was critical of the state for frequently changing the ground rules for reopening throughout the summer. However, many of those changes were warranted, as conditions regarding the coronavirus and lessons learned from experiences with reopenings in other countries became available.
But the state’s guidance on reopening safely has been short on mandates and long on “suggestions,” leaving many of the difficult decisions to individual school districts. That was done, Gov. Murphy has said, to allow for local circumstances. That makes sense. But some of the guidance on social distancing, testing and contact tracing has been too vague.
The words “wherever possible” pop all too frequently, as it relates, for instance, to social distancing in classrooms and school buses, and other safety protocols. Safety measures should be uniform throughout the state. Further, there are no specific requirements for testing.
A Q&A on the state Department of Education website states “There is no statewide policy for testing students and currently neither the CDC nor the NJ DOH recommend daily testing of students.” That has led to a wide range of testing policies in districts that could lead to a wide variation in how safe those districts will be.
Read the NJ Education Department’s ”School Reopening Frequently Asked Questions here:” https://nj.gov/education/reopening/faqs/index.shtml
About 240 school districts, more than one-third of the total, wiill be reopening remotely. Another 68 plan to fully reopen. Most districts will use the hybrid model, typically with students attending class two days a week and learning remotely the other three days. Most private and parochial schools will fully reopen.
Only one thing is certain in the days and weeks after New Jersey schools reopen. There will be lots of second-guessing and “I told you so’s.” Let’s hope the “I told you so’s” come from those who said schools could reopen safely.
Randy Bergmann is the former Editorial Page Editor of The Asbury Park Press