PLAINFIELD, NJ — Plainfield Board of Education members met Tuesday for their Work & Study session, and unanimously passed a motion to instruct Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell to submit a completely virtual learning plan, through November 1, to the New Jersey Department of Education.
The motion was brought forth by Richard Wyatt, who said, “I know that we have all been watching the news and following this closely. And we're waiting for the Governor to come out and say either we're going to stay hybrid or do remote only. But can this Board have a discussion and maybe possibly consider going remote only. We know these are our kids. These are our staff here. We know what's best.”
Vice President Terence Johnson added, "Like I said last month, here we are meeting at home. But we're telling everybody it's time to go back to school. So, like Mr. Wyatt said, until we're ready to have a meeting in person, I just can't support going back to school yet.”
Board member Carmencita Pile said, "The other thing is, is that we have not done an actual walk-through, like go in the school and say, okay, this is how the kids are going to do it. I have seen pictures, but I have not gone inside a classroom. You say, okay, when the kids come in here, they're going to sit at this desk with this plexiglass around them. The teacher is going to sit in the front. I mean, nothing has been walked through, actually walked through. Because everything is going to be an experiment. Once we put those kids, if, hopefully we don’t, but once we put those kids in the classroom, it's an experiment. So are we willing to experiment with our children?"
"I'm concerned about the health risks to our teachers, staff, students, families and community. I believe that I heard this morning that 50 percent of the largest districts will start their school year online. And that's across the nation. But the population of Plainfield Township is predominately people of color who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in regards to infection rate, death, and both the loss of jobs and the increased risk of exposure essential workers are subjected to,” Dr. Avonia Richardson-Miller said.
Dr. Richardson-Miller continued, "Plainfield had one of the highest infection rates for Union County and the State during the peak. Opening schools presents too great a risk for another surge of COVID-19 infection rate. And many residents in our community don't have the ability to social distance/self-quarantine at home. And I feel that virtual school is the more responsible option, in my opinion at this time, until the data shows something different."
Superintendent Mitchell called on Dr. Jean Gordon, who explained how the district will utilize Schoology, which is an online learning management system (LMS) used to create engaging content, design lessons, and assess student understanding, according to its website.
Dr. Gordon proceeded to outline how 45 district vanguards were trained on Schoology in early June, with two district-wide support staff acquired through a grant. "They were fully trained with about twelve hours of PD; teachers received a minimum of six hours of PD of an introductory to Schoology in June, the last week of school.”
Gordon said from July 3rd until August 27, "there were twelve hundred hours of live sessions that we offered and there's three self-paced courses for our people who can move at their own pace and wanted to be a little bit more advanced.” There will be a full Schoology interdisciplinary instructional technology day on September 2. On that day, teachers will receive lesson plans with help videos to get their students, whether they're a kindergarten student or an 11th grade student, into Schoology on the first day of school, "whether it's remote or in person or if it's 100 percent virtual."
August 20 will be the first of six dates for Schoology open houses that expose parents to the program, who will then be able to sign up for training in both English and Spanish.
Board President Cameron Cox said, "I remind the board members of Mr. Wyatt's motion to empower our chief school administrator to submit a completely virtual plan to the New Jersey Department of Education until at least November 1st. That motion was properly seconded and there was some very healthy discussions on that motion.”
The roll was called, and the motion passed unanimously.
After the vote, Cox said, "I want to honestly give a humble round of applause to my esteemed colleagues. It is not very often that we get an opportunity to have a unanimous agreement on any element of what we do as board members. But the fact that we were able to take this, and have this conversation, take the initiative and lead it to a vote unanimously in the best interest of our students, I think speaks volumes for how much we all do care and advocate for our children."
The Board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 25, for its Business Meeting.
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