ROXBURY, NJ – Although Roxbury teachers “long to return” to classrooms, many fear doing so this fall could be “tragic” due to the continuing spread of COVID-19, according to a survey conducted by their union.

The Roxbury Education Association (REA) said 341 school district employees responded to its June survey. Nearly half of the respondents said their main reason for recently telling Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic that they wanted to return to the classroom was to avoid looking like they were unwilling to work, according to the REA.

“We would like to assure the community that while all REA members long to return to our schools, many of our members feel that there are serious concerns that if we return too soon the effects will be tragic and only prolong the closure,” said the REA in a statement.

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The district administration has yet to choose a plan for the proposed reopening of classrooms. It has offered three options, all of which call for only limited in-class instruction and some level of remote teaching similar to what took place after schools were closed in mid-March.

Risky Situations

 According to the REA, 22 percent of Roxbury school district staffers are categorized by the U.S Centers of Disease Control as being “high-risk” for serious or life-threatening reactions to being infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The union said 13 percent of the employees said they suffer from medical conditions that would preclude them from work. It said another 19 percent said they fear returning to classrooms, and risking infection, because they live with someone with a medical condition that placed them at risk.

Half of the staff members who answered the REA survey “indicated that they did not feel comfortable becoming responsible for the sanitation of their classroom or the many resources students use while in the classroom” said the REA, adding that an art teacher, for example, would have to deal with cleaning “hundreds of color pencils and markers.”

A similar number of survey respondents “expressed concern over the idea of “mask breaks” that were suggested might take place inside the classroom, even if done so under CDC guidelines for social distancing,” said the REA. It pointed out that “no one wants to wear masks” and contended that enforcement of social distancing guidelines make “an uncomfortable situation even more difficult for all involved.”

Windowless Rooms and Recycled Air

Some educators told the union they were worried about working in classrooms that lack windows and rely on “recirculated air” for ventilation. “Has the district made any efforts to test the air quality?” these staff members asked, according to the REA. “What efforts could be taken to make it safer moving forward?”

The survey drew mixed responses to this question: “How comfortable would you be with the idea of an entirely virtual school year for 2020-2021 (provided no major medical therapeutics are developed prior to Sept)?” About a quarter of the staffers said they would be completely comfortable while 14.4 percent said they would not be at all OK with it, according to the REA.

Radulic said the administration will announce its choice of reopening option at a special meeting of the Roxbury School Board on July 27. 

"The recent survey completed by the REA was intended to provide a different perspective regarding our return to school, and it was meant to give a voice to the teachers who have concerns with regard to what that return may look like, said REA President Allyson Spargo in an email on Saturday.

She said the survey "was not meant to be divisive in any way, shape or form" and said the union and its members "look forward to working with our community, our administration, and our BOE in order to develop a plan that we feel keeps the safety of both our students and staff as priority number one."

In the statement, the association similarly expressed willingness to work with the administration but said it wanted Roxbury residents to be aware of the concerns of its members.

“We share this information with you, the community we serve, in the interests of full transparency,” wrote the REA. “We are all looking forward to developing a plan that meets the needs of our community, our staff, and most importantly, our students; however, we hope to do so with an honest analysis of the risks in order to discuss the best possible plans in order to mitigate those risks for our entire community.” 

To see the REA's report on the survey, click here.

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