NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The school district’s fall re-entry plan for its 10,200 or so students has been approved by the Middlesex County school superintendent.
About a dozen staff members from New Brunswick Middle School, however, told the Board of Education at last night’s meeting that they hope the district maintains remote instruction in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They listed several reasons for not wanting to return to the school district’s 13 school buildings in September, from concerns of contracting COVID-19 in poorly ventilated classrooms to the fear of what will happen to the district’s students in light of statistics that show Black and Hispanic children are affected by the coronavirus in disproportionate number compared with white counterparts.
Others wondered what would happen if thousands of students contracted COVID-19 at school and brought it home where their parents, grandparents, siblings and others could catch it.
“I am very afraid of being in the building during this pandemic and do not feel safe at all,” said Paulina Romo, a bilingual language arts teacher. “I believe to rush a decision of this magnitude puts the lives of many at risk and the well being of an entire community. It is clear our schools were not constructed to resist a pandemic of this proportion. And thus, sufficient time is needed to implement strict safety protocols before lives are risked by sending students and staff members prematurely into schools.”
Another middle school teacher cited statistics that show that every time a toilet is flushed, an aerosol containing COVID-19 could be released into the air for weeks in bathrooms where there are no windows or exhausts.
“Not to mention how many children are going to drop their masks on the bathroom floor, just to pick it up and put it back on their face,” she said.
Despite the staff members’ concerns about returning to the classroom, Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson said the district was on a deadline to turn in a back-to-school plan to Superintendent of Schools Kyle Anderson and his staff. Anderson has told school districts the first option cannot be an all-remote model, Johnson said.
So, the district is taking various measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as installing plexiglass barriers at security desk in the front offices and erecting automated temperature kiosks that will record temperatures and individuals entering the building.
The district has purchased facemasks and gloves for the staff and will use 20 or so backpack spray systems to disinfect the classrooms, halls and buses.
The district has also purchased hand sanitizer stations to be installed in each classroom.
To help the staff prepare, Johnson said there will be two more service days added before school. The first day of classes is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8.
The district has also formed a hybrid plan which will allow for students to learn via remote instruction and in-classroom teaching.
The district sent out surveys to the parents of the students a few weeks ago to see if they preferred the in-person or the hybrid model. Johnson said the 5,000 or responses have been split between the two options.
So, Johnson said the district is also planning for a hybrid model that could switch to full remote model if there is another COVID-19 surge like the one New Jersey experienced in March.
In particular, the district has made great strides to bridge what Gov. Phil Murphy has called the digital divide in the state. Johnson said students in preschool through grade 12 have been provided with district-owned Chromebooks with Wi-Fi to use at home.
The New Brunswick school administrators, staff members and parents are no doubt monitoring Murphy’s COVID-19 briefings. In June he announced that schools will re-open in September. In subsequent briefings, he has seemed to soften his stance, but he hasn’t change his mind.
Occasionally he has hinted that he’s concerned about how working parents will care for kids if the state implement at-home learning.
When asked about school openings during Monday’s briefing, he said, “Nothing new to report today. We take all the inputs from all the stakeholders very seriously, and there’s, as I said before, enormous passion on all sides of this.”
State statistics have shown that COVID-19 affects Blacks and Hispanic children disproportionately to white children. And, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Latino and Black children make up nearly 75% of all the cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in the United States.