WAYNE, NJ – During Thursday night’s Wayne Board of Education meeting, Donna Reaver, the First Vice President of the Wayne Education Association (WEA), made a plea on behalf of Wayne Teachers asking the BOE to not allow classroom learning for Wayne Public Schools until it is safe to do so. Despite this, the BOE voted in the hybrid plan that was presented that evening.
“The educators of this community are scared for their safety,” said Reaver. “They’re frightened of bringing the virus home to their family, and they’re terrified for their students.”
Reaver laid any risks to teachers, staff and students at the BOE’s feet. “The wrong decisions: to open prematurely, to ask students and staff to enter buildings, to put their lives at risk, may be one you will have to live with the rest of your lives,” she said.
The BOE meeting that night went well over four hours, with several hours dedicated to the public asking questions about the plan with the Superintendent, Dr. Mark Toback and Assistant Superintendent Donna Reichman answering every one calmly and confidently.
The plan, as laid out by the district is for a hybrid school model. For Kindergartners through Eighth Grade, the school schedule will be two days in school and three days out of school each week. For high school students, the plan is for four days in school learning with one day virtual, then two full weeks virtual.
Each class will be divided into ‘cohorts’ so that half of one class will be in school for two days, while the other half learns from home. For high school, the classes are divided into three cohorts following the schedule described above.
Mask wearing is required all day for all students, unless there is a health situation that prevents it. There are dividers for social distancing and everything that can be done to keep students, teachers and staff safe has been thought of and is being put in place. However, there are no guarantees. Part of the presentation for the hybrid plan discussed what would happen if COVID showed up in school and how the district would handle different scenarios.
The district cannot, for certain, keep COVID out of Wayne schools. This is the risk that Reaver was referring to when she was asking the BOE to consider a virtual-only scenario for schools this fall.
However, Dr. Toback said that they had no choice. That the NJ Dept of Education has made it clear that “in some fashion, we have to offer in-person instruction,” he said. “As far as going full-virtual, I don’t believe that is an option for the district.”
The BOE, according to Toback, had to vote a plan in place with at least some in-person teaching. Toback’s return to school plan seems to be a very comprehensive and well-thought-out plan as was witnessed by the prepared answers to dozens of different questions asked by Wayne parents and teachers. If there has to be in-person, live school this fall, then this plan might be as good as the Township could hope to have.
The next day, Reaver spoke to TAPinto and said: "Dr. Toback and Mrs. Reichman have done a wonderful job with what they have. However, the school’s budget is limited and not all PPE that needs to be purchased, has been. Also, the WEA is perplexed that other districts, such as Trenton, Willingboro, Chesterfield, Florence, Westhampton, Jersey City, Hillside, West Orange, have already submitted their all virtual models to the state while this administration claims that no such option exists."
In-person learning is being offered by the district, but parents have the option to ‘opt-out’ and have their children not attend school this fall. These students would learn 100% virtual from home.
So that the district could plan for transportation, cohorting and more, parents were asked to fill out a survey and an overwhelming 81% of parents said they would send their kids to school in September, while only 18.5% opted out and will keep their children home.
Still, all of this planning may end up be moot as both the WEA and the BOE President Cathy Kazan sense that Governor Murphy may pull the plug at any point and close all public schools this fall.
“Common sense is telling us that full-virtual is on the horizon,” said Kazan.
Reaver also said this during her time at the virtual podium: “Perhaps you can wait for the Governor to call it off in a few days, or a week or two and rob teachers of this valuable time – time to figure out how to teach classes to students they have never met. Or more importantly, to allow the children to have teachers that are ready to start the year.”
As of now, Wayne public schools are set to open their doors on September 8 and begin a very unique school year. But, as Kazan said recently: “If there is one thing we can count on, it’s change. And, not without a lot of notice.”
Screenshots from the Wayne School District's hybrid return to school plan. These are of the various schedules and cohorting for all grade levels