‘Schools Should Remain Virtual,’ Somerset County Educators Say

SOMERSET COUNTY, NJ — School officials from across Somerset County, including Hillsborough, Bridgewater and Warren, have penned a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday calling for New Jersey schools to remain virtual until science and trends show it is safe to return amid the coronavirus.

“As the calendar moves closer to the scheduled opening of the next school year, school communities are increasingly fearful of becoming pandemic epicenters. Students, teachers, support professionals, and families deserve safe schools, but that is simply impossible in the current climate. Reopening the school buildings too early will lead to tragedy in school communities across the state, unraveling the work we have all undertaken to manage the spread of the pandemic,” the letter stated.

In the letter sent to Murphy and Acting Commissioner of Education, Kevin Dehmer, educators listed a number of questions that would impact the return to schools such as:

  • Given that indoor dining in restaurants is unsafe, how can we serve food to hundreds of students in a crowded cafeteria which may not have air conditioning or proper ventilation?

  • Many school employees will not return to school because of childcare concerns, pre-existing health conditions, or fear of entering crowded public buildings during a pandemic. Furthermore, we expect many more school employees will need to quarantine for 14 days at various points throughout the year. Schools already have a shortage of substitutes, and we cannot combine classes because of social distancing requirements. What do we do when we become understaffed?

  • How will we socially distance in the hallways, especially during high traffic times such as period changes?

  • Many districts are not requiring students to wear masks. How can staff and other students be protected if some students are not masked?

  • How will school supplies be provided and disinfected for each classroom and subject area — pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, including special area subjects — since students can no longer share materials safely?

  • How can we ensure all air conditioners and HVAC systems have appropriate screens in order to circulate filtered, clean air? What will we do about buildings and classrooms without any air conditioning or proper ventilation at all?

  • When students engage in severe behaviors that are hazardous to themselves or others, as can be common in autism and other special education classrooms, how can these behaviors be deescalated while observing social distancing?

  • How will each district prepare to manage the grief and trauma from the increased likelihood of deaths in their school community?

“These questions have no easy solution, yet they will impact the day-to-day reality of every individual in public schools. For the sake of our students, colleagues, communities, and families, we implore you not to reopen school buildings until all of these uncertainties can be fully addressed,” the letter stated.

The letter was signed by educators throughout Somerset County including:

  • Dan Epstein, President, Somerset County Education Association

  • Peggy Doorly, Co-President, Bedminster Township Education Association

  • Jolanta Kolodziejski, Co-President, Bedminster Township Education Association

  • Melanie Dupuis, Co-President, Bernards Township Education Association

  • Karen Pellicone, Co-President, Bernards Township Education Association

  • Loren Paxson, Bound Brook Education Association

  • Randi Lee Childers, President, Branchburg Township Education Association

  • Laura Kress, President, Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association

  • Ron Schmidt, President, Bridgewater-Raritan Transportation Association

  • Dan Mayer, President, Franklin Township Education Association

  • Chris Fox, President, Green Brook Education Association

  • Henry Goodhue, President, Hillsborough Education Association

  • Daniel McMahon, President, Manville Education Association

  • Jim Dolan, President, Montgomery Township Education Association

  • Theresa Fuller, President, North Plainfield Education Association

  • Brett Stibitz, President, Somerset County Ed. Services Commission Education Association

  • Carol Shields, President, Somerset County Retired Education Association

  • Andrew Coslit, President, Somerset County Vocational Tech. Education Association

  • Lynn Weltler, President, Somerset Hills Education Association

  • Patrick Frain, President, Somerville Education Association

  • Kristina Fallon-Tomaino, Co-President, South Bound Brook Education Association

  • Ryan Cullinane, Co-President, South Bound Brook Education Association

  • Nancy Andrews, President, Warren Education Association

  • Stacey Imbimbo, Co-President, Watchung Borough Education Association

  • John Primeau, Co-President, Watchung Borough Education Association

  • Greg O’Reilly, President, Watchung Hills Regional Education Association

Teachers recently held a protest on Friday claiming the reopening of schools in September is unsafe and too soon. Read More: ‘Only When It’s Safe’: Somerset County Teachers Protest Reopening

Murphy announced Monday that he was limiting indoor gatherings to 25 people and 25 percent capacity per room, reversing a previous increase to 100 people due to the coronavirus transmission rate nearly doubling what it was a month ago. Read More: Gov. Murphy Limits Indoor Gatherings To 25 People

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This article originally appeared on the Hillsborough Patch

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