Jersey City students, parents call on board of education to reopen schools

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At a meeting where public comment lasted for about four hours, Jersey City parents and students called on the board of education to let kids go back to school as soon as possible, frustrated over months of remote learning only.

“We are constantly engaging in the ongoing monitoring of health data. We have opened a daily dialogue with the Jersey City Health Department,” Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker said prior to the public portion, also noting he wrote a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy on February 18th asking for school employees to vaccinated as soon as possible.

Board of Education President Mussab Ali has a similar message for Murphy in an editorial for the appeared on HCV earlier this week.

Last month, Walker said in a letter to parents that remote learning would run through April 21st, which would mean students would not be inside a classroom for over a year due to COVID-19 concerns.

He made it clear yesterday that he stands by this decision, noting that staff members are testing positive almost daily and that a fourth district employee died from the virus on Wednesday since the onset of the public health emergency in March of last year.

Walker also noted that Hudson County has the lowest vaccination rate in the state and that communities of color have suffered a significant higher impact from COVID-19.

However, after April 21st, parents will have the option to let their children go back to school for hybrid learning, which will end at 12:45 p.m. daily.

“We’re not here to play Russian roulette with anyone’s lives. We value human life way too much to be making half-hazardous decisions without consulting what would be the safest way to move forward,” Ali said following Walker’s presentation.

After a 45-minute or so executive session, the meeting resumed around 8 p.m., before nearly 200 speakers made their voices heard. Each speaker was limited to one minute due to the incredible volume of callers on the Zoom session.

“I’d rather be there and not starting at a screen to see my classmates and teachers. Right now I’m looking at a screen for five hours to do my work,” said Zachary Lamb, a student at Public School No. 17.

“Being in front of a screen for that long is not comfortable at all. It’s not helping me learn at all. Sometimes in class I just want to fall asleep, being in a classroom would really help me solve this. I think other kids feel this way too. That’s why I hope you reopen schools.”

While he was joined by other students who echoed the same message, several teachers weren’t nearly as enthusiastic.

“Now in April, the end of April, with about 50 days left in the school year, do we really need to disrupt the school day again? Not just disrupt it, shred it. Did I hear correctly that I may not have the same students that I’ve been teaching virtually for the next few months,” said educator Diane Mackay.

“I appreciate you wanting us to get back in the buildings, but I believe it should be done with some common sense.”

For the most part, parents who called into the meeting sounded like they had their fill of remote learning at this point.

“My son is in kindergarten and he has an ADHD diagnosis, so remote learning has not been serving him well. At this point, as the months progress, it’s been getting worse and worse so I’m concerned about school if they don’t reopen next month,” explained Danielle Haskins.

” … I’m concerned about the long-term effects, I mean this is an entire school year. For any kid that might have any kind of special needs, they’re not being met right now.”

Konrad Batog questioned the decision making of the board and the administration, exclaiming that nearby districts have reopened without issues.

” … It’s been one year since schools closed and there’s no clear test or guideline on what it will take to reopen schools. We have heard that schools are too old, but even the newer schools haven’t opened,” said Konrad Batog.

“We have heard that COVID rates are too high, but even when they were low, schools didn’t open … Hoboken has opened, New York City has opened: even charter schools in Jersey City have opened. So what is the problem?  It appears right now that the problem is a lack of will and leadership in the board to get schools open.”

Another parent, Chris Johnson, put the board on blast for not presenting a definitive reopening plan.

“How selfish of all of you to show up tonight without a solution or a plan to get our kids back into school, in the classroom, in person,” he began.

“It is unbelievable and absolutely unacceptable and I think speaks volumes, unfortunately, about our community, our teachers, and the way you have disrespected our families.”

Ultimately, the board took no further action regarding reopening and held firm on the date set for the spring.