UNION, NJ – Union’s school interim superintendent has cited the township’s high COVID-19 positivity rate as the reason the district is unable to move ahead with shifting to hybrid learning.

According to a letter to parents from Interim Superintendent Gerry Benaquista, members of the school district met with Union Health Department officials on Thursday, Jan. 14, and concluded that it is not safe for in-person schooling to commence.   “Our community, staff, and students' health and safety continue to be the number one priority,” read Benaquista’s letter.  [TAPinto Union is awaiting information from Union's Health Department on what the township's positivity rate is.  An update will be provided when available.]

“Many families would like to have their children return to a hybrid, in-person learning as soon as possible,” continued Benaquista’s letter.  “I assure you that throughout each step, I will keep our communities safety in careful consideration. By collaborating with the Union Department of Health and all constituents, we remain steadfast in moving towards offering Phase 1 of the hybrid learning transition.”

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“This is the right call,” wrote one parent on a social media site in response to Benaquista’s letter.  “[We] can’t be mad at people trying to keep our children, teachers and staff safe.”

Another added, “don’t worry about students falling behind.  The priority has to be…don’t get sick, don’t die.  If they have missed some concepts along the way, they can catch up when this is over. Stay home to stay safe.”

One township parent told TAPinto Union they think students should start in-person schooling.  "A lot of other districts around Union are back.  I think it's time for our kids to get back into school."

Benaquista said the district remains steadfast in moving toward offering Phase 1 of the hybrid learning transition. He said  if the positivity rate declines over the next few weeks, “we anticipate moving to Phase 1 of hybrid learning on March 1.”   He also said the decision to move to hybrid learning includes many factors such as the safety of buildings, adequate professional development for educators to deliver lessons in a hybrid format, sufficient technology, adequate staff to support both platforms during COVID-19 outbreaks, and the ever-changing COVID-19 positivity rate within the community.

 “I am proud of the continued support of our community over the past four months,” read Benaquista’s letter.  “This support has enabled the district to support our students' needs both educationally and within our extracurricular actives, which is highlighted by the completion of a successful fall athletic season.”

Benaquista also said the district's Building and Grounds Department has “worked tirelessly to ensure that the building issues identified in the TUPS buildings' ventilation audit have been addressed.”  He said federal and state grants have allowed the district to purchase the necessary technology to provide a strong hybrid learning platform.