In an editorial, five Jersey City parents explain why they feel their public school district leaders boggled their reopening plan after over 14 months of remote learning.
The end of the school year is typically a celebratory and joyous time for students, the learning staff, parents and caregivers, who can reflect on a year’s worth of hard work and academic progress. But, this is no typical year.
Instead, the close of the 2020-21 school year brings with it mixed emotions. Students, the learning staff, parents and caregivers are proud to have navigated countless challenges, but many are ending the year with frustration, disappointment and complete exhaustion.
This is a consequence of the lack of planning, communication, transparency and accountability from Jersey City Public School District leaders in regards to the process of reopening schools for in-person learning this year.
When asked, through an anonymous online survey administered in May 2021, respondents described the Superintendent and the Jersey City Board of Education members’ efforts to reopen schools as “disorganized,” “inadequate,” “passive,” “slacking” and “haphazard.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise.
The Jersey City Public School District chose to keep schools closed for more than fourteen months, then fumbled the reopening, announcing schools would stay closed for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
In response to community outrage, they reversed the decision a few days later, causing parents, caregivers and the learning staff to scramble.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that the School Board President or its members, who were elected by parents, have held the Superintendent accountable for failing to develop a comprehensive reopening plan to the detriment of the children.
As a result of the Superintendent’s and the Jersey City Board of Education members’ inability to safely, effectively reopen schools fully this year, as so many districts across the country have done, research indicates that many students will end the year with significant learning loss.
In addition, students are coping with social and emotional challenges as well as developmental delays due to the prolonged closure of schools.
Though the learning staff made tremendous efforts to support virtual learning, nothing replaces the value of a hands-on in-person education.
The psychological, emotional and educational damage done to students will take much more than a few weeks of summer school to repair. It may take their entire school career.
Given that the quality of this school year was at the mercy of its leaders, students shouldn’t be the only ones to receive a grade.
When asked to assign a grade to the Superintendent and the school board leaders for their handling of the reopen for the 2020-21 school year, 42.2% of the 250 respondents assigned an F for unsatisfactory and an additional 26.2% assigning a D for less than satisfactory. In fact, only 3.3% thought an A for excellent was appropriate.
So, why look back when our community is so desperate to move forward?
When asked how confident they are in the Superintendent’s and Jersey City Board of Education members’ abilities to reopen the district fully for September 2021, only 9.5% of survey participants selected “very confident.”
Just as educators provide feedback to students and their families as a means to promote growth, our community must be given the opportunity to hold our school board leaders accountable.
It’s even more important now, as planning for the 2021-22 school year is well underway. Although aspects look promising for the district, with multiple committees formed and grants awarded, today, there is a lack of confidence and widespread mistrust in leadership.
To advance the best interests of our children, trusted leadership must be at the helm to ensure we are moving forward and not falling back into old habits. It’s time for complete transparency and accountability for the Jersey City Public School leaders.
They cannot be allowed to fail us again.
Jackie Cox Battles