NJEA president expects most districts to begin new school year remotely amid COVID concerns
New Jersey's largest teachers union tells Kane In Your Corner that it expects most school districts in the state will begin the school year offering remote-only instruction, despite Gov. Phil Murphy's announcement that only districts that meet certain conditions will be allowed to opt out of in-classroom instruction.
The problem stems in part from the state's reopening plan, which requires school districts to attest that they meet 40 conditions to reopen safely, but which does not require the New Jersey Department of Education to certify districts are compliant.
"I believe that there should be a compliancy component on every single plan and that it is the duty and responsibility of the state to make sure that those minimum standards are in place," New Jersey Education Association president Marie Blistan says.
Until Wednesday, districts had also been required to open, meaning superintendents were required to certify that they could do so safely whether they actually believed it or not. Blistan notes that 2,500 school buildings statewide are more than 50 years old and in need of upgrades to their ventilation systems.
The governor's new policy allows districts to provide remote-only education if they can't comply with reopening standards, submit a plan to come into compliance, and state a date they expect to be able to reopen. The governor relaxed the rule after Elizabeth school officials announced they would not offer classroom instruction, in violation of the governor's old order. They said they didn't have enough teachers after 400 opted out of classroom instruction for medical reasons.
Several more districts have since announced their intention to go remote-only, including New Brunswick, Paterson, Jersey City, Camden, Bayonne and Willingboro. East Brunswick schools have publicly reaffirmed they plan to reopen.
The NJEA, New Jersey Association of School Administrators and New Jersey Supervisors and Principals Association are asking Murphy to mandate remote-only instruction statewide to begin the school year. Thursday, they were joined by 155 local education unions.
In a letter to the governor, the local union presidents wrote: "Reopening in September in this current climate is dangerous, reckless and potentially deadly" and said if the governor does not mandate remote-only education, local unions "may have to act on their own to protect the lives of those that they represent."
But Ronald Chaluisan of the Newark Trust for Education says remote education has consequences too. He says students get better educations in the classroom, especially those from lower-income families who may lack access to digital devices.
He also says, "Many families must have their kids in school in order for them to work, and that’s a problem worth considering too."