By: Marissa Torovano
A school district in northern New Jersey says opening schools for in-person classes has become a “mathematical impossibility”. As reported by NJ.com, 375 of the teachers are refusing to return to the classroom. ”As of Monday, 375 teachers have notified the district that they cannot report to work inside a school building in September due to health related issues,” district spokesman Pat Politano said. “There would be insufficient staff to open safely in person with that many teachers unavailable for in-person instruction.”
On Monday night, the Elizabeth School District’s board voted to start the 2020-2021 school year off remotely, because fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic will keep too many teachers at home. The decision by one of New Jersey’s largest school districts to keep the building shut still awaits approval from the Department of Education. The DOE and Gov. Phil Murphy have asked all schools to open with a mix of some in-person and some remote classes.
School districts are required to accommodate teachers who do not want to return to campus for health fears, as per the reopening guidelines. It did not specified, however, what the procedure should be if there are not enough educators to facilitate in-person classes. “It became a mathematical impossibility. The superintendent, staff and Board of Education worked hundreds of hours, through Monday afternoon, to try to meet the directive from Gov. Murphy and the Department of Education to open schools,” Politano said.
NJ school districts including Jersey City, Bayonne and Willingboro have already submitted reopening plans to the state for 100 percent remote classes, saying it would be unsafe for students and teachers to come back to the buildings. Several teachers unions and the state principals’ association also agreed that it would be best to keep schools virtual. In Elizabeth, the 28,300-student district was planning to reopen with a combination of remote and in-person classes, with rotating days throughout the week. It was the abundance of teachers filing requests to teach from home which made that plan unattainable, as per NJ.com.
The teachers needed to provide for health waivers and submit doctors’ notes as well as other health information to apply to teach from home, said John Griffin, president of the Elizabeth Education Association. “They are scared,” said Griffin referring to his union members. “My ideal scenario is the governor allows districts to choose if they want a remote opening,” said Griffin before Monday’s vote. “All-remote is the only safe way to do it.”
On Monday, Gov. Murphy declined to comment on whether he is considering delaying in-person classes in the state’s public schools or granting districts flexibility to make their own choices. “We take all the inputs from all the stakeholders very seriously and there’s, as I’ve said before, enormous passion on all sides of this,” Murphy said.