Dear Madison Community,
It is with a juxtaposition of excitement and concern that we send this communication. The 2020-21 school year is approaching quickly. Every year members of the Madison Education Association use this time to plan new and exciting lessons for the students within the Madison Public Schools. This year, our planning has shifted from how to engage our young people in intriguing content to how to inform young people on how to return safely to school. School districts throughout the country have made the difficult choice to begin the year remotely. Recently, Governor Murphy signed an administrative order allowing districts to open remotely provided they present a plan on how to arrive at in person instruction. With facts in hand, the Madison Education Association believes the most prudent and responsible way to move forward for the overall health of the Madison community is to open the school year remotely.
Madison is a community steeped in tradition. The town is filled with amazing and beautiful feats of historical architecture, some of our school buildings being among them. Central Avenue School and the Madison Junior School were built in the early 20th century. Madison High School and Kings Road School in the middle of the 20th century and Torey J Sabatini was constructed over 50 years ago. These buildings are beautiful and their character speaks to the unique and special history this community proudly calls our own. The HVAC systems in our buildings, while appropriate in normal times, were not designed to filter air to contain the spread of COVID-19. The guidelines provided by the State of New Jersey outline the important role ventilation and HVAC units play in combating the spread of the virus. Our opinion is that optimal ventilation to offset the spread of COVID-19 does not and can not exist in our instructional buildings. Even with modifications to school schedules and purchasing mobile air purifiers, entering these buildings for daily instruction puts the families of Madison as well as our educators at risk in a way that remote instruction does not.
There are staff and students who can not and should not come to school at this time due to their own health conditions. Many teachers are faced with the impossible decision to work in fear or walk away via a leave of absence or resignation. A significant number of our staff has asked the district to make some accommodation for them to continue to work. The final numbers are not set in stone; as more school districts and day care centers around us close, childcare issues continue to increase among our staff. There is no way to calculate the loss of faculty due to a return to in person instruction until such a practice begins. If we return to instruction remotely, such personnel issues will be eliminated and instruction can proceed in a less disruptive manner in which students could begin their new school year working with their assigned teacher(s). The educators in this community responded with vigor and enthusiasm when faced with the challenge of remote learning last March. The challenge to fulfill educational services such as free and reduced lunches were met by our district’s leadership team. We are prepared to improve these practices in the coming year as we continue to face the dangers of the pandemic.
Recently, we conducted a survey of our staff which indicated that approximately 70% would prefer returning to school remotely. This statistic is in no way reflective of a lack of desire to educate students in the community. Rather, they are driven out of concern for the health of their families and that of the students whom they educate. We do not want to see Madison be the epicenter for the next spike in COVID-19 cases. Some families in Madison have sent multiple generations through our school buildings. One day we will all roam the halls of our school buildings and enjoy everything a traditional school setting has to offer. We will attend events as a community in our school colors. We will cheer for the successes of our students and offer handshakes and hugs to all who pass through the doors of our facilities. Parents and grandparents will be able to visit our buildings and beam with pride as they admire the work of their children and grandchildren. Our shared goal is to return to in person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so for all students, families, and staff. In order to ensure that we can arrive at that day as safely as possible, we ask the community to support our plea to begin instruction remotely in September while we work together as a community to address the hurdles before us.
With Gratitude and Respect,
Members of the Madison Education Association