UNION, NJ - With the conclusion of the current school year, the Union Board of Education addressed topics connected to reopening schools for the upcoming 2020-21 school year during an online public meeting held on Tuesday, June 16 through the online meeting platform Zoom.

Superintendent Gregory Tatum used his final Superintendent report of the 2019-20 year to discuss preparations for reopening classrooms for in-person learning in September.  “There’s a lot of information and issues going in our district right now,” said Tatum. “Myself as well as all the superintendents around Union County have been working very diligently together; working with the state to determine how this [reopening] is going to look and what obstacles we’re going to be facing coming into September.”

Tatum’s comments come in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced school districts throughout New Jersey, including Union Public Schools, to close and transition to remote learning during the latter half of the 2019-20 school year.  He also noted “the bulk of activities” for the district during the summer months will focus around preparing the district for in-classroom learning that will comply with state regulations concerning the reopening of schools.

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New Jersey has yet to formally release to the public the guidelines and rules for the reopening of the state’s school districts.   An announcement from the state is forthcoming, with guidelines expected soon. 

Parent Partners

During his superintendent report, Tatum explained the district has formed committees, co-chaired by a parent and a district educator designed to tackle the inevitable challenges surrounding reopening in September.  These partnered committees include “Sanitation, Safety, and Wellness,” “Education Redesign” and a committee focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL).

Tatum explained that he and other district officials have attended different committee meetings since the last board of education meeting back in May. During his comments, Tatum noted the Education Redesign Committee is “going to give a hard look” at what the reopening is “going to look like going forward.”   Tatum noted actions recommended by committees will be in compliance with forthcoming reopening state guidelines.

Tatum commended the SEL committee and their emphasis on formulating “programs and platforms” of support for students as they return to school.  He also said future student support on the social-emotional front could potentially extend to outside of school.  According to Tatum, these parent-educator committees are tasked with submitting action plans to the superintendent for review before formal action can be taken by the board of education.

COVID-19 Aid

The meeting also saw the Director of Instruction and Funded Programs Maureen Guilfoyle announcing the district would be receiving $690,869 in aid as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27 by President Donald Trump with the aim of providing funding for local “education agencies,” according to state officials.   CARE aims to provide financial aid to areas affected by school closures due to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Guilfoyle expressed uncertainty as to how the amount of money was determined, noting “we get more Title One money” than the $690,869 of CARE funding.  I know other districts have been asking the same questions,” said Guilfoyle. “They said they got a certain percentage and then the state kept some of the money and then somehow they divvied it up in that way.”

Title 1 funding referred to by Guilfoyle is money granted through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that ensures “technical assistance, resources, and guidance to LEAs to ensure economically disadvantaged children receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, by helping to close academic achievement gaps,” according to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Moreover, during her report, Guilfoyle announced the funding from CARE would target areas like technology and sanitation.  The goal, explained Guilfoyle, is to provide chromebooks to students grade 2-12.  Guilfoyle said the district is also working on providing grades K-1 with iPads.  Sanitation products, like hand sanitizer, would also be purchased with the CARE funding.   “We know how expensive it is, to get our buildings up and running,” said Guilfoyle. 

The next Union Board of Education Meeting is scheduled for at 7 p.m. on July 21. While the meetings were originally scheduled to take place at the James Caulfield Administration Building, 2369 Morris Ave., regular meetings have moved online due to restrictions on public meetings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.