SOMERVILLE, NJ - In response to plans to reopen New Jersey public schools in September, members of the Somerset County Education Association, in conjunction with NJ21 United, a grassroots education advocacy group, will stage a demonstration on Thursday, July 30 on the Division Street pedestrian mall near Main Street

Members of the SCEA will be joined by community members from throughout Somerset County beginning at 3 p.m. to urge Gov. Phil Murphy to start the coming school year the same way the 2020 school year concluded - virtually. 

“Public schools are the hub of every community,” says Dan Epstein, SCEA president. Epstein, an elementary special education teacher in Franklin knows the realities of what has been proposed in terms of county reopening plans.

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“Reopening before it is safe will be a grave mistake that will cost countless lives. It would reverse all of our collective efforts to control this pandemic over the past few months,” Epstein said.

Epstein sent the following letter to SCEA membership on Monday:

Dear SCEA,

As the pandemic rages, many of us have grave concerns about schools reopening in September and are incensed that we have to risk the lives and well-being of our students, colleagues, families, and communities. We’ve all adjusted our ways of life to include PPE and social distancing, but this is simply unfeasible in public schools. 

If we cannot sit down inside a restaurant, how can we be safe in a cafeteria with hundreds of children eating and talking, especially when many don’t have air conditioning or proper ventilation? How can we stay six feet apart in a crowded hallway as periods change? It is anticipated that many staff will be absent for COVID related reasons, so how do we overcome our already unmanageable shortage of substitutes? 

These are merely a sampling of the myriad questions we all have, very few of which have a satisfactory answer. Simply put, it is not safe to reopen schools at this time. Opening too soon will result in tragedy on a massive scale.

The SCEA is taking action to prevent reopening schools before it is safe. We’re sending a letter to our elected leaders– signed by local presidents– and meeting with district, county, and state officials to let them know we will not stand for unsafe conditions. 

We need your voice to help save us all from the increased spread of death and disease. Here is how you can help.

  • Sign the Petition. Let Governor Phil Murphy and Acting Commissioner of Education Kevin Dehmer know that we demand school buildings remain closed until it is safe.
  • Bridge Takeover. Along with NJ 21 United, we’re taking over the pedestrian bridge over Rt. 22 by Bridgewater Commons on Thursday, July 30 at 3 p.m.. Register to join us.
  • Call and Email Legislators. Here is a helpful template developed by the Franklin Township EA that you can use to find your legislators’ contact information and send them a powerful message.

Most of our elected officials have never set foot in a kindergarten classroom. They’ve haven’t stood for hallway or lunch duty. They’ve never cleaned an art classroom or driven a bus full of students who need constant reminders to keep their seat belts buckled. Now they’re telling us to make sure everyone socially distances and wears masks in these environments. We’ve been there and we know better. Please take action to help keep our school communities safe.

Throughout New Jersey, educators and advocates alike have been strongly voicing concerns over rush to return to buildings, many of which have failing infrastructure and no climate control, without proper funding or planning, according to Henry Goodhue, a teacher in Hillsborough and first vice president of the SCEA. 

Recent polling conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that large majorities of New Jerseyans across all demographics favored keeping coronavirus restrictions in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Employing virtual instruction until science and trends show that it is safe to return, must be one of the steps taken to protect, not only students and staff, but New Jersey as a whole, according to the SCEA.

Educators recognize that virtual instruction is not ideal, but can be refined and are committed to ensuring that students receive the best, and safest, education possible. “We all want nothing more than to have our schools open,” Epstein continues, “but not at the expense of our health, our students, our loved ones, and our communities.”