The Jersey City Board of Education heard different points of view from parents and teachers over schools beginning to reopen next week, with Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker also providing a little more insight into his decision making process.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“During the course of the week there were a number of comments made based upon the district not having any reopening plan. And I really just want to clear things up,” Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker said early on during last night’s nearly five-hour meeting.
“The district will reopen April the 29th. Students will return in groups by grade level. On 4/29 students Pre-K to grades 3 will return. On May the 10th, Grades 4 to 8 will return, and also on May 10th, grades 9-12, We will have two in-person cohorts, group A, and group B, and one complete remote cohort.”
Walker’s comments reiterated what he said in an email blast that went out Wednesday evening, reversing course on what he said via a robocall to parents on Sunday – that schools would not resume in-person learning until September.
He continued that the cohorts will be created based on the survey data and that the groups will alternate every four days when they are in school versus learning remotely.
Additionally, all staff will report to their schools on April 29th – the day grades K-3 will return – unless they have an approved accommodation to work remotely. Grades 4-12 won’t get back in the classrooms until May 10th.
Walker also pointed out that under this new reopening plan, students will have more possible days in the classroom then the one that would have saw them return on April 26th.
“Even though we’re starting later than the original plan, students will have up to 17 days in instruction as opposed to 12 days under the former plan.”
The superintendent explained that his team was initially split on the decision to reopen schools, noting that COVID-19 infection numbers are still high in Hudson County and that many families have opted to remain remote for the remainder of the year.
“The COVID activity in Hudson County is a level three, or ‘high’, as of April the 17, 2021. Also, many staff members are eligible for accommodations based on increased risk of the COVID virus. The majority of our families opt to remain remote. I based my decision on the majority of parent responses and my commitment to keeping our students and our staff safe,” Walker explained.
He explained the district’s initial COVID operating plan called for organizing the return to in-person learning in phases: Phase 1 would’ve been fully remote, while all students would’ve returned to the classrooms by Phase 4.
Many who spoke during the public portion commended everyone for reaching common ground on reopening, though a few also voiced some caveats.
“I also think a plan for reopening should be flexible … We know that at this point in the year, continuity is very important, especially for our younger students, students with disabilities,” said Nick Lawrence.
It was noted several times during the meeting that young children and special education students benefit the most from in-person learning.
Others expressed trepidation, and in some cases outright opposition, to the schools reopening.
“I don’t know whether to be happy, disappointed, or confused about the decision that was made once again last minute. While I understand the importance of getting back into the classroom, I’m confused on what has significantly changed within the last two days,” parent Raven Chan stated.
“For the fall, the district needs to have a plan that has COVID testing, what in-person instruction will look like, what remote instruction will look like and what the plans is to notify families of positive or possible exposure, and what will happen in that instance.”
Teachers like Maria Enriquez said that there are no air purifiers in the classroom, which are therefore not prepared to stop a coronavirus outbreak.
Another teacher, who was only identified as Nicholas, was far more frustrated and demanded someone to explain what has changed in the past few days to again call for in-person learning.
“What you are doing teaches the children some ugly lessons: that the people in charge don’t really care about them, that an angry minority is more important that the will and the health of the majority so long as they have a nice website and can get some time on the TV news,” he said sharply.
“I urge you to look inward and decide if this is what we want to project to the community. The people pushing for reopening are indeed a minority, legitimized only be the support of politicians who do not know the names of a single child in these schools.”
Walker’s decision to reopen came just hours after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he was “very disappointed” the Jersey City Public Schools would be continuing remote learning through the end of June.
The meeting, held at Frank L. Williams School, was the first one that convened in person since the coronavirus pandemic, though several trustees and many speakers still participated remotely, which led to many technical difficulties.
“This is the first time we are able to meet in person and I just want to thank everyone’s efforts so we could do that … We noticed that there was a lot of technical glitches. We noticed that the sound wasn’t always clear and it wasn’t exactly a smooth run,” Ali stated.
“But I think that reiterates the importance of having done this meeting, it reiterates the importance of reopening schools. As many people have said, in September, we don’t know what the future is going to hold. God forbid, but it is possible we will still be in pandemic conditions … by doing things like having this meeting in person and reopening schools we can get through all those kinks.”
Ali also said that air quality reports and inventories of PPE equipment have been done in advance of students returning and indicate that schools are indeed safe to reopen.