SOMERSET, NJ – The school board expressed confidence in its plan to open schools last night while local and state groups called for caution as coronavirus cases rise in Franklin and across New Jersey. 

“We know lots of folks are anxious about schools, especially as communities are experiencing increases of cases,” district Superintendent John Ravally said at last night’s school board meeting. 

The district is set to open up its hybrid program for all students on Nov. 30, which will see two groups of students splitting their time between in-person and virtual learning. Officials divided students who haven’t opted out of in-person learning into two cohorts – blue and gold – which will alternate weeks for in-person classes. One group will be in school Monday through Thursday, while the other group has virtual classes with Friday being fully remote for everyone. 

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Even as the board members said that the district is ready to resume in-person lessons some are questioning the move. Dan Mayer, the president of the Franklin Township Education Association, urged the board to consider the increase in cases. 

“The circumstances we are living under have not been easy for anyone and although there seems to be a potential end in sight, unfortunately, our scientists are forecasting a dark winter in the very near future,” he said. “I urge you to factor in these numbers to help guide our decisions in order to ensure the best possible outcome for our students, staff and community.”

FTEA’s message of caution came as Franklin reported 22 new cases of COVID-19 with a seven day average of 26 new cases per day, a rate that hasn’t been seen since April 27, according to Mayor Phil Kramer. On the mayor’s Facebook, where he reports the township’s coronavirus data daily, he urged residents to not gather on Thanksgiving and take continue taking precautions to combat the spread of the virus. 

School board  Vice President Ardaman Singh said that she’s aware of the rising numbers, but has “great confidence” in the district’s ability to return to school safely. 

“We do not know what will happen, but I think as a board member, and as a member of the community, and as a parent who has a child in the school district I do put forth my confidence in the district administration and the staff,” she said. 

Yesterday the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, criticized Gov. Phil Murphy’s statement supporting the return to in-person schooling. The governor joined six of his counterparts in the region in stressing the importance of in-person classes. 

“Medical research as well as the data from Northeastern states, from across the country, and from around the world make clear that in-person learning is safe when the appropriate protections are in place, even in communities with high transmission rates,” said the statement that Murphy tweeted. “In-person learning is the best possible scenario for children, especially those with special needs and from low-income families. There is also growing evidence that the more time children spend outside of school increases the risk of mental health harm and affects their ability to truly learn.” 

NJEA said the statement by the group of governors downplays the risks associated with getting kids back in school buildings. 

“We are dismayed that Gov. Murphy and the governors of six other states have downplayed the danger posed to students and school staff participating in in-person instruction during the current COVID-19 surge in our region,” NJEA leaders said in a statement

As of Nov. 8, the Franklin school district reported 12 total cases of COVID-19 in its schools.

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