Superintendent asks governor to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for school staff

Parents want schools to open

Superintendent Niesz talks instruction plans at the Feb. 23 Board of Education meeting.
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Superintendent Niesz talks instruction plans at the Feb. 23 Board of Education meeting.

“I am requesting that education staff be moved up on the list for those citizens eligible to receive the vaccine,” Bayonne Superintendent of Schools John Niesz said in a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy.

“I am reaching out to you for help for the children of Bayonne. Our students have been out of school buildings for close to a year now; and cannot return safely until our faculty and staff receives their COVID-19 vaccines.”

Bayonne public schools have under virtual instruction, using the Schoology online platform. The return to classrooms has been dependent on the state of COVID-19 and the completion of safety upgrades. The district has determined that students can return safely only if staff has been vaccinated.

Parents want answers

At the Feb. 23 Bayonne Board of Education meeting, a number of parents called for schools to reopen for in-person or hybrid instruction as soon as possible.

Some questioned the idea of waiting for educators to get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to classrooms. When parent Susan Barrans asked if schools could reopen now using educators who have already received the vaccine, Niesz said that the district is not privy to that information.

In response, other parents questioned how the district can plan to reopen school buildings once educators and staff are vaccinated if there is no way to track who is getting the vaccine.

“How are you tracking which teachers get the vaccine if that is how you are going to open the schools,” parent Nicole Adamczyk asked.

While Niesz did not directly address the issue, he said that the school district is ready to vaccinate its educators and staff the second that the state allows it.

“We’re ready to go,” Niesz said. “We have a team that has prepared for it. If we’re advised that the vaccine is available, we will immediately be able to offer it to our community of teachers, employees and all those who care for your students.”

Renovating schools

Niesz reiterated that a number of schools will need renovations before students return to classrooms.

“The average age of the school buildings in Bayonne is 87 years, and that makes it important to upgrade our buildings for COVID-19 to the degree necessary,” Niesz said.

A number of ventilation systems have been upgraded.

“When we welcome our students back, they’re going to have to have safe facilities,” School Business Administrator Daniel Castles said. “We’re not all the way there, but I think we’re getting very close.”

While upgrades may continue through March and into May, Niesz said the district is planning to return to classrooms before the school year ends.

According to Niesz, the Pandemic Response Team has been meeting to plan for the reopening of schools. Niesz encouraged anyone interested in joining the team to email Board Secretary Dr. Gary Maita at gmaita@bboed.org.

Outbreaks

In addition to vaccinations and renovations, the district is also coping with COVID-19 outbreaks. Two schools are currently shut down due to staff testing positive for the virus, even with limited personnel in the building amid virtual instruction. Sports programs have also seen a number of infections; there hasn’t been one week without a new COVID-19 case.

“Although we have tried to open athletics for students, we had no choice but to shut down due to repeat outbreaks,” Niesz said. According to Castles, the renovations to many schools in the district aim to remedy the issues, including virus outbreaks, that it has been facing with just staff in buildings.

Niesz wrote to Murphy that virtual instruction has been tough but education staff in the district has adapted to the challenge.

“I am extremely proud of my faculty and staff for how they pulled together and began instructing their students virtually,” Niesz said. “It was not easy but they stepped up and did what was expected of them.”

In his letter to Murphy, Niesz wrote, “As you are aware, virtual learning is not optimum for students and difficult for many of our parents, but they have done what has needed to be done to support our children.”

Niesz ended the letter by thanking the Governor and encouraged him to further discuss the issue in the future. Stay tuned.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.