Teachers' leaves of absence force 2 Monmouth County districts to switch to virtual learning

More than 250 teachers took leaves of absence between the Freehold High School Regional and Ocean Township school districts, which has left a shortage.

News 12 Staff

Aug 28, 2020, 12:31 PM

Updated 1,335 days ago

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After spending weeks of planning how to bring students safely back to school, two districts in Monmouth County have been forced to switch to all virtual learning days before the start of the school year. 
More than 250 teachers took leaves of absence between the Freehold High School Regional and Ocean Township school districts, which has left a shortage.
Howell High School was set to open on a hybrid schedule like many others in the region of Monmouth County.
The majority of parents say they wanted their kids back in school, and teachers wanted to teach in their classrooms.
But at the last minute, more than 250 teachers in the Freehold Regional District and more than 30 in Ocean Township district took leaves of absence.
The leaves of absence are allowed under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Some parents and school leaders say this was a political move spurred on by the New Jersey Education Association Union. The group was among several organizations that issued a joint statement calling for schools to begin remotely. Shortly after, Murphy gave the green light to begin schools remotely.
Some parents say it's not fair.
"I know a lot of teachers want to get back in the classroom. So it's a little disturbing when I can go to a Shop Rite or I can go get my nails done and sit next to teachers, and they're not willing to go back to work. It's disappointing," says Howell Township Councilwoman Pamela Richmond.
"I do understand their concerns, but we all have to get back to some sort of sense of normal, and the only way to do that is to go back to what once was normal for us and see how things progress," says parent Dawn Van Brunt.
In a statement to News 12 New Jersey, the Freehold Regional Education Association said, "The teachers and educational professionals of the Freehold Regional High School District provide the highest quality education for our students.  The members of the Freehold Regional Education Association worked diligently with district administration throughout the summer in preparation for a safe hybrid start to the 2020-2021 school year. The difficult decisions our staff made in requesting alternate accommodations for childcare is a direct result of ever evolving options, suggestions, and chaotic state mandates that created a less than secure reopening environment.   Given the late timelines and sudden closures throughout New Jersey, we did our best to move towards an in-person restart.   In contrast to a k-12 district who can shuffle staff with common certifications, our members have specified and highly qualified instructional certificates that are unique to their content area. All of our members are spending the last days of August preparing to provide effective and engaging instruction. We miss our students, we miss our classrooms, and we are dedicated to ensuring safe return to in-person instruction in October." 
The local union also said because these are high school teachers, it is more difficult shuffling staff because of the certified and specialized subject matter.
Parents say they are doubtful in-classroom instruction will take place any time soon, despite the new timelines set up by the districts.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the NJEA had sent a letter to Gov. Murphy when it had in fact issued a joint public statement, and also mischaracterized the timing of some of the developments with respect to remote learning. 


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