UNION, NJ – Over 225 people attended a virtual Special Board of Education meeting Thursday evening in hopes of hearing the Board’s back-to-school plans, but were told full details would not be disclosed until next week's Board meeting.

Immediately after the meeting began, board members moved into executive session, closed to the public, for about two hours.  Upon their return to the public Zoom meeting, Superintendent Gregory Tatum said, “tonight we have talked a lot about the plans for the possible return to school in September.”  Tatum said at next week’s Board of Education meeting, “you can expect to hear some presentations from the committees that have been functional within the district for the last few months.”

Tatum outlined those committees as the School Closing Committee, who have completed their task, the Educational Redesign Committee, the Sanitation and Safety Committee, and the Social and Emotional Learning Committee.  Tatum said these committees have been meeting frequently over the last few weeks.  He said most of the committees have completed their work, have recommendations, and will be at next week’s meeting to present their findings.

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However, Tatum did say there are several possible models under consideration for a return to school, including:

  • Virtual Model – Five days of virtual learning (no in-school learning)
  • Hybrid Program (person-to-person and virtual) – Two days a week of in-school learning and three days of virtual learning outside of school
  • Person-to-Person - Four days a week in a school building and one day of deep cleaning with a modified schedule.

Tatum said the administration has also discussed the possibility of a school reorganization within the district, with students able to attend schools closer to where they live to limit bus travel.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting was not to finalize a plan, that was misunderstood,” said Tatum.  “The purpose of tonight was to have a meeting with the Board of Education to ensure they knew all of what’s on the table, make recommendations, entertain all suggestions they may have and then bring that back as a presentation that will happen next Tuesday.”

About twenty individuals asked questions and provided feedback during the public portion of the meeting.  Ann Margaret Shannon, Union Township Education Association President said the UTEA expects plans will follow all CDC (Center for Disease Control) requirements, including the expectation that there will be six feet between students in all classrooms.  She asked the Board to consider such issues as ensuring there is sufficient personal protective equipment (PPEs), staggering opening and closing times, hiring of additional school nurses, and considering grouping students in clusters to have teachers change rooms instead of students. 

“There are 900 UTEA members taking care of 7,000 children,” said Shannon.  “We want this to be done the right way.  We are asking that the UTEA leadership be consulted before any of the plans are approved by the Board.”

One parent questioned how the committee members were selected and asked the names and qualifications of the members, along with their recommendations, be released to the public.   A parent asked if the school district is working in conjunction with the local Department of Health and if the township’s health officer has been involved in any of the committee meetings.  A school nurse asked if nurses were included as committee members for their input.  “How will nurses, staff and students be supplied with PPE?  How do you plan to supply it?” asked the parent.

Several parents spoke of the social emotional component to learning, and asked about counseling for children suffering from the lack of social contact.  A parent asked if the September 3 back-to-school date is in jeopardy and what the deadline for the finalized plans will be.  A parent asked how fire drills and hide-in-place lockdowns will be handled (considering social distancing) and what the procedure is for those who may refuse to wear a mask.  “What happens if a classroom teacher gets sick?  Does everyone quarantine?”

“We had a lot of conversation,” said Board President Nancy Minneci, “and we hope to answer all of your questions next week.”  It is unclear when the Board may take definitive action on the guidelines for school re-opening.