SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Although a number of school districts have closed in a proactive measure against the spread of coronavirus, Springfield Schools remain open. Now parents are asking school board officials why that is the case.

In an open letter addressed from Superintent Michael Davino and released by the Springfield School District on Friday, March 13, he laid out the case the district was making for keeping schools open.

As part of his open letter to parents, Superintendent Davino said that after consulting with Township Health Officer Mike Fitzpatrick, who works out of Bloomfield, NJ in a shared service agreement with Springfield and other towns, the district had decided to follow Fitzpatrick's recommendation to keep the schools open.

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Davino noted in his open letter that should the guidance change, the school district will follow suit and close as well. He also said in the letter that while the district had made the decision to keep schools open, it was suspending co-curricular activities and extracurricular activities, including interscholastic sports and the high school musical immediately.

In the letter, Davino also shared a statement from Fitzpatrick advocating for keeping schools open. It read; 

"As the Health Officer, it is my responsibility to collaborate, consult and guide the decision related to school closings. With almost 40 years of Public and Environmental Health experience, as well as growing up when there are very few childhood vaccines, I have spent a considerable amount of time determining what I believe is the best approach for the community at large as well as the school community. It is my best judgment and belief that school closures, at this time, are premature due to the lack of cases in and around our communities."

However, parents in the district voiced their concern that all other schools that use Fitzpatrick as a heath official had already closed, leaving Springfield alone in its decision. This list includes Bloomfield, Caldwell, Chatham, Cranford, Glen Ridge, Lincoln Park, Madison and Mountain Lakes.

TAPinto Springfield reached out to the Springfield Board of Education and received this response earlier today;

"Mr. Davino is following the guidance of the New Jersey Departments of Health and Education, which have instructed local school districts to follow the directives of their local health officials.

If and when the recommendations of our public health officials change, the district is prepared to, and will act accordingly.

As Mr. Davino said in his letter, parents, in consultation with their own health professionals, can and should make decisions with respect to their own children, and the district will work with them to make sure they are not negatively impacted."

That response has not been enough for parents in the district, who have since raised their concerns about the decision. To that end, a petition has been started by local parent Marissa Ruggiero, which as of press time has gained more than 1,600 signatures.

Ruggiero spoke with TAPinto Springfield and said her concerns, as well as those of other parents in the district she has spoken with, all center around controlling the spread of the virus.

“The only way to slow down-flatten the curve I think is the term that’s being used-to really slow down and be able to manage this crisis, is that we all have to take one for the team," Ruggiero said. "We can’t have our normal lives right now. It’s a global pandemic”

Ruggiero continued, saying, “We need to take this upon ourselves as a community to try to slow this down, and it’s pretty appalling that the school district is not doing that.”

As for the actions that led to the petition, Ruggiero said she consulted with a group of mothers in town, writing to Davino and Fitzpatrick before launching the petition herself.

“A group of us online, we said 'you know what, we need to do something about this,' so I wrote letters to Davino and to Mr. Fitzpatrick on my own, and then I said, 'you know what, let’s just do a petition and see how many people we can get out there,'" she said. "I never expected-right now I’m looking at it, 1,626 people have signed-I didn’t expect it to grow this quickly, but it also just goes to show the support that we have in Springfield. We want to be able to slow down this pandemic.”

Ruggiero has one child in the fifth grade at Sandmeier Elementary School, and kept her home as a precaution on Friday. She noted that at this time, she has not received a packet of make-up as work as requested. She also said that the decision to delay the announcement has left other parents in the district hanging.

"I hope that if they do make a decision, they do make it very quickly, because parents need to be able to plan," Ruggiero said. "This is also a reason why I was upset to see this decision on Friday, because if they had made this decision [to close] on Friday, that gives a whole weekend for parents to plan and figure out childcare, figure out all sorts of things."

Shortly before publication, Springfield Mayor Chris Capodice released the following open letter, addressed to Fitzpatrick and Davino, urging the school district to close:

In his open letter, Capodice express his gratitude to the district for the educational services provided as well as the steps undertaken during the pandemic so far. However, Capodice also relayed his opinion that the district should close at this time.

"While I cannot speak directly on behalf of every member of the Township Committee, I am confident they share my emphatic and informed concerns that the continued potential exposure to COVID-19 of Springfield Township and School employees, children, caregivers, parents and, perhaps most importantly, those older and infirm members of our community, poses a risk that is well beyond the comfort level of many community officials and residents," he said.

Capodice also addressed a portion of the open letter directly to Fitzpatrick, urging him to convince the school district to reverse their position.

"In the hopes of ensuring a coordinated Township-wide effort, even if deemed by some to be perhaps overly cautious, I am seeking your assistance to convince Springfield’s BOE and Superintendent to reconsider their position in light of this crisis," Capodice said. "While no one should panic or make irrational choices, we suggest that the Schools, like our municipal government, act out of an abundance of caution rather than taking unnecessary risk at this time."

Follow TAPinto Springfield for more local coverage during the coronavirus outbreak.