WAYNE, NJ – The Wayne Board of Education decided that the fourteen public schools in town will remain all-virtual until at least mid-February and many Wayne parents are not happy.
A new Facebook group has emerged called Reopen Wayne Schools, and in less than a week of its creation more than 850 people have joined. Founder of the group, Dr. Mario Colletti a pediatric intensivist at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson and parent of two children at James Fallon Elementary, said he wanted to create “a forum where parents, like myself can coordinate and organize in a way that we all can advocate for schools to reopen in a safe manner.”
“We started the Facebook page not in any attempt to bash anybody, teachers especially,” said Becky Bradley, who has two children at Theunis Dey Elementary. “We are very mindful to remove any negative comments and teacher bashing. We don't approve of it. We don't want it. It's not accepted.”
“This is for parents,” she added. “We needed a place to vent and to mobilize and to all talk about what we're looking for and put together something cohesive that hopefully represents most people.”
The first event, this group has organized is a rally planned outside of Anthony Wayne Middle School on Thursday, January 28 at 5:00 p.m.
Anthony Wayne is where the Board of Education holds their closed, executive session meetings at 6:00 p.m. before the public meetings that begin at 7:30 p.m. Their next meeting is scheduled for that Thursday and these parents want to be there to greet the BOE members as they come in.
“We want to tell them that they need to return to the hybrid model and continue with the phased reopening that was already laid out in prior Board of Ed meetings,” said Colletti.
The argument for keeping the schools all-virtual was the rise in COVID cases in Wayne, Passaic County and in NJ, but Coletti does not feel this should be the deciding factor.
“I work in a hospital, so I am very aware of COVID and I, and everybody, is rightfully afraid of it,” explained Colletti. “But the reason I’m not afraid of my kids bringing home COVID is the data.”
“The information we have from Europe and other countries is that schools, especially elementary schools, can safely reopen even when cases are surging,” he added. “There's very little, if any, transmission between students and teachers, and it's been shown that some of the safest institutions to have open are the schools, when you’re following the CDC guidelines of masking and social distancing.”
The rally was first planned by Tara Daly who has three sons. Her oldest is a Senior at Wayne Hills, while her other two sons are attending schools outside the district, so that they can attend in-person school.
“I did this for Dan,” she said about the rally. “He sits in front of his computer with his eyes glazed over, and when I see him in his virtual classes, he’s not getting that needed interaction, that human connection that people need. It’s very isolating.”
“The American Society of Pediatrics just posted an article today that said that isolation can lead to depression and other mental health issues,” Daly added. “That’s my biggest concern and why these kids need to get back into school.”
“As a parent, you have to be mindful of what's fear-based and what’s science-based,” said Bradley. “The numbers are not supporting the fear of this rampant spreading of COVID in schools. The numbers are indisputably supporting the mental health issues and all of the challenges and the drawbacks and the frustration that's happening at home, including the lack of learning and the lack of our ability to really give it are all because we're stretched so completely thin.”
Bradley, like many parents, is concerned for the student’s mental wellbeing.
“We’re seeing kids who weren't otherwise anxious, being anxious,” she said. “My daughter suddenly is having sleep issues. These kids are losing their motivation. They’re losing their light, they’re losing their smile, they’re losing their childhood, their ease and their effortlessness that makes them children.”
Judging by comments in the Facebook group, there are many parents who want in-person learning in the Wayne schools and are frustrated that they are not being listened to by the members of the BOE.
“Their job is not easy,” admitted parent Jodie Charbajian, referring to members of the BOE. “It’s not an easy decision they are making. But they have to fight for our children to get back into the classroom and that needs to be the emphasis and we don't feel that right now. That is why you see parents now starting to get upset because we feel like we don't have a voice.”
“I just don't want to feel hopeless anymore,” she added. “I want there to be a fight for our kids. So, I'm not going to be quiet anymore. We need to come together to make positive change.”