Since March, Jersey City public school students have been home and learning remotely. They may finally return to schools during the fourth marking period, according to Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker.
“Our goal is to bring students for in-person learning during the fourth marking period if public-health statistics for the state continue to trend in a favorable direction,” he said.
To help prepare for the possible reopening, the district, during its board of education meeting last month, presented the 331-page Building Readiness document which outlines how the district is “COVID proofing” each school building for reopening.
According to Walker, the district has old buildings with crowded classrooms, which makes getting them ready difficult and costly.
The Building Readiness document includes details on cleaning supplies, air duct work, indoor air quality testing, PPE equipment, hand sanitizing stations, desktop barriers and Plexiglas installation, and thermal imaging temperature scanner instillation at all 50 schools.
“The definition of ready changes from one moment to the next, but for the most part we are,” Walker said.
“Our district is going above and beyond, squeezing out every dollar of this CARES funding, to prepare our schools for our educators and for everyone to be safe when they come back,” said Board of Education President Mussab Ali.
During the meeting, several parents urged the board to reopen schools in April or sooner with many saying they just wanted the choice to send their children for in-person instruction or opt for continued remote learning.
“My children are young and suffering,” said parent Tricia Cuthbertson. “They are stressed, unmotivated, and anxious.”
‘It’s costing people money and jobs’
She said that not everyone can work from home and help their children with remote learning, noting “it is costing people money and jobs.”
Prior to the meeting an online petition circulated urging the district to allow students to return to school.
“It is time to re-open Jersey City Public Schools to give families a choice for safe in-person learning!” states the petition. “Students and parents are suffering from increased stress, anxiety, and social isolation given the prolonged period of remote learning. Studies show that the achievement disparities have worsened across income levels and between White students and Black and Hispanic students as a result of online learning since COVID-19.”
The petition, which garnered more than 390 signatures, states that neighboring school districts have implemented measures and returned to some form of in-person instruction, including New York City and Hoboken.
“While we understand the fears of the unknown, we do not want our school leaders to make decisions based on fear,” states the petition. “Please consider the facts on how schools can safely re-open and the impact remote learning has had on our children and families. Please give families a choice to attend in-person learning.”
According to Walker, the biggest factor on when the district’s schools will reopen will be vaccinating the staff.
“My goal since March when the governor identified we’d be operating remotely, has been and continues to be to reopen schools, but in doing so, we have to certainly be reasonable in terms of the safety and welfare of all the students involved,” Walker said.
The date for when schools would reopen has been pushed back several times throughout the pandemic, from September to February and now April.
“Every date that we’ve given to reopen has been preceded by doing a survey with the instructional staff to identify who would be available and based upon the number of staff members that have identified either some kind of compromised immunity or even age and other concerns, its placed us in a situation where we have not been able to provide the necessary supervision at this point and time,” said Walker. “We are hoping that with the vaccine being available, that would help to speed things up, and we are looking forward to that happening.”
He noted that as soon as the vaccines are available in Jersey City, the district would make them available to its employees.
Trustee Gerald Lyons said he would like the board to write a letter to the state to ask for guidance on whether the board can require staff to get vaccinated before returning to in-person instruction. Trustee Alexander Hamilton said he, too, is hoping to get teachers vaccinated and discuss with the state how to step up the vaccination process, noting the “slow rollout” of the vaccine in Hudson County.
To read the Build Readiness document go to tinyurl.com/4mp468w8