SOMERVILLE, NJ - Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association President Laura Kress said the message needs to be clear that the objection is not to reopening schools this year, but about the need to have more time to get it right.
Kress and about 20 members of the BREA, along with more than 100 public school teachers throughout Somerset County, gathered on the Division Street pedestrian mall in Somerville Thursday, before heading out to march up and down Main Street carrying protest signs and chanting, “Not Until It’s Safe.”
It was one of several teacher demonstrations across the state Thursday, according to Patrick Frain, president of the Somerville Education Association.
“My perspective is we need more time to get it right,” Kress said. “And then we can go to a hybrid and gradually back to normal.”
The Somerset County Education Association, which organized the rally, was joined by NJ21 United, a grassroots education advocacy group to sponsor the rally, with a goal of urging Gov. Phil Murphy to start the coming school year virtually.
Kress said NJ21 is an offshoot of the New Jersey Education Association. She said everyone thinks they are against the opening of schools, but that’s not entirely true.
“We have to spend time to put together a really good virtual program, start with that for a couple weeks so we can really get the buildings and critical situations worked out,” she said. “For example, the venting systems at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School and Adamsville were installed in 1966.”
Kress said she believes that every administrator is working as hard as possible to create a safe environment for the students and staff, but the state has faltered in the time it has given the districts to get everything set.
“And that is going to leave questions that it won’t be done perfectly,” she said.
With the schools shut down since March, Kress said she misses the students and misses her normal teaching life, but things have to be done right, and there has to be time to get it right.
And on top of the issue of time, Kress said, the other problem is the statewide daycare crisis, the wraparound care crisis.
“All the daycares are operating on a limited number,” she said. “So the people who have had to go to work have had to scramble, and now you are adding every teacher who has a child who is an infant through sixth grade. What will they do for kids that are only in school two or three days a week, or are not on the same schedule as the teacher parent?”
“We’ve created a huge demand for daycare that can’t be met,” she added. “That’s the other crisis, and that is a crisis that needs to be resolved.”
Kress said Thursday’s rally was well attended, and people are passionate about their concerns.
“My representation is about getting more time,” she said. “I want the message to be clear from the BREA that everyone wants to go back to work, they just want to make sure it’s done right, and there hasn’t been enough time given by the state for the confidence that things that have to be changed will be done to the degree that people will feel safe.”