JERSEY CITY, NJ - The Jersey City School district has reversed its decision to reopen classrooms and will remain with virtual learning for the remainder of the school year.

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker had called for teachers to return to in class instruction only to have as many as 400 teachers call out on Thursday and 500 Friday due to the perception that teachers are at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“The district cannot provide in person instruction without them and does not have substitutes to work in school while they work from home,” Walker said of the educators. “We will focus our efforts and most notably our resources on a full in-person reopening in September.”

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“I will communicate with the staff about our expectations later this week and inform you if circumstances change,” he concluded. 

The reopening plan came under fire last week when a number of teachers complained they had not been warned. The change also puts at risk plans for the district to expand on summer educational programs that might have helped the neediest students catch up after a year of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Normally, the district would call in substitute teachers to handle the situation but could not get the necessary numbers to make up for the shortage, said one school official.

The announcement, which was made via a Sunday night robocall, immediately drew fire from Mayor Steven Fulop. “I don’t know how else to describe this other than an absolute failure in leadership and planning at the JCPS, and I’m saddened for the families, children, and those dedicated teachers that were hoping to return."

Fulop went on to say, “I struggle with the fact that our Jersey City public schools couldn’t figure out some version of in-person learning when Newark, NYC, Hoboken, and virtually every surrounding district has been able to reinstitute some form of in-person learning. The damage that this decision will do is significant, and I hope they reconsider.

School Board President Mussab Ali who expressed hope that students were to be back in classrooms for at least part of this school year told TAPinto Jersey City that “the board does not make day-to-day operational decisions.”

“The only person qualified to make this decision is the superintendent of schools,” he said, adding that he, and many parents, were eager to here from Walker Monday night when he is scheduled to make a presentation on the matter. 

The issue may be more complicated than just fear of contracting COVID-19, at least according to one teacher.

“There are several things going on here,” the teacher said. “I can only speak from my experience. Many teachers are very frustrated and burnt out from this horrible year. From the outside it looks like it's a cushy situation teaching from home. It is clearly not. If I am feeling what I'm feeling then all teachers in Hudson County are feeling it. The system is so corrupt when it chooses leaders. Most of the leaders in Jersey City aren't even present when they need to be present.”

“They are non-present, and all of the work falls on the lowest paid. Teachers are sick of it. Our work is endless because of virtual learning. We are at 24-hour mercy of students and parents. I for one have no life outside of my virtual classroom. And the demands that the leadership put on us although they are invisible, and the demands come through email or absurd. I know so many teachers that are retiring early or resigning because they're just so burnt out. I am also looking for work outside of the school district. I will gladly leave teaching if I get this position.”

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