The New Jersey Education Association, the union representing the vast majority of the state’s teachers and much of its school staff, called on Gov. Phil Murphy to open all schools in the state to remote-learning only in September.
Several local boards of education are meeting within the next week to finalize their reopening plans. Last week, one local superintendent predicted his district, one of the largest in the state, would not reopen, at least partially due to negotiations with the union over reopening policies. The NJEA had previously called on schools to test every teacher and student for coronavirus infection periodically, which would have added up to millions of dollars in extra costs for school districts statewide.
On Tuesday night, the NJEA, joined by two smaller unions that represent administrators, supervisors and principals, said they wrote Murphy a letter, calling on him to mandate remote-only learning to begin the 2020-21 school year.
“For months, New Jersey educators and administrators have been working tirelessly to find a way to safely bring students back into school buildings in September,” the letter said. “Now, with less than a month remaining before schools are scheduled to reopen, it is time to reluctantly acknowledge that goal is simply not achievable.”
Reopening under the current conditions “poses too great a risk to the health of students and schools staff,” the letter went on to say, adding that the state’s nearly 600 school districts should not be left to their own devices to decide on individual reopening plans.
“We wish it could be different, but the facts are not in our favor,” the letter said. ” Our nation is in the middle of an uncontrolled pandemic. Our state, while doing better than many others, has not yet stopped the spread of this virus, particularly among the same young people who are scheduled to return to school in under four weeks.”
The letter comes after immediate controversies in different parts of the nation as some states began their school years. In one incident, a student was suspended after she posted photos of a jam-packed hallway during a class change. The suspension was later lifted, and the school closed. In other states, schools closed before students even arrived after cases were reported among staff. In Florida, superintendents statewide called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to provide rapid testing kits.
The New Jersey letter was issued well after Murphy’s daily coronavirus press briefing. It is expected he will address the request Wednesday.
“We remain committed to getting back to in-person instruction as soon as it is safe,” the letter concluded. “It is not safe yet.”