MAPLEWOOD — The South Orange Maplewood Education Association (SOMEA) has issued a letter to the district stating its members will not return to district buildings for in-person instruction on January 27 due to inadequate and unsafe environments.
The letter, sent to Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor and the Board of Education during last night’s BOE meeting, SOMEA said teachers — and therefore students — cannot return to school Wednesday with buildings in their current state.
“We will continue to educate passionately but will do so from our homes until such time as temperatures are moderate enough to avoid bone-chilling working conditions in violation of minimum temperature standards and vaccines are made available to educators,”
In a response statement today to TAPinto SOMA, the district's communications director said “The Superintendent's Office is meeting with SOMEA leadership to come to a beneficial resolution to their concerns, and we will contact district families if there are any changes in school schedules.”
SOMEA says classroom temperatures average between 35 and 60 degrees because classroom windows are to be left open to allow for proper air circulation; this is well below the 68 to 79 degree range required by New Jersey state workplace health and safety regulations.
At Marshall School the building is out of a functioning boiler which has frustrated teachers further who are being required to work in these conditions.
“We have at the highest priority right now making sure that the Marshall students and teachers have the appropriate heat in their building, and if not appropriate we do have steps that we can take to ensure that,” said Taylor during Monday night's meeting.
Parents on both sides of the issue addressed Taylor and the board during public speaks. Some spoke glowingly about the return to school and their desire to get more students into the buildings as soon as possible. Others lauded the teachers for their sacrifice and called on the district to close schools until teachers are able to get vaccinated.
“If we couldn’t [reopen] safely in September, we certainly can’t do it now,” said one parent who only identified herself as community member Murtagh. “If open windows provided enough protection you would have opened in September.”
SOMEA's letter called out the district administration for “disingenuous” statements that it values the teachers safety. The district closed for a snow day Tuesday due to inclement weather but also in part so the district could address the situation at Marshall School. Students at Columbia were also scheduled to sit for the PSAT; it was canceled and is unlikely to be rescheduled.
It is still unclear whether come Wednesday morning the students in Cohort B will be returning to their classrooms.
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