WAYNE, NJ – The administrative staff at the Wayne School District have been diligently working within new Department of Education guidelines to open schools in September. They recently released the results of the questions asked by concerned residents at the July 16 Board of Education meeting. You can access it here.
But all of this hard work may be for nothing as the Wayne teacher’s union “sees only a very narrow path for the opening of schools in September.” This was written in a letter to WEA Members from the officers of the Wayne Education Association (WEA).
The letter discussed the challenges of opening schools in September in a way that was safe for students, teachers and staff. It discussed factors such as how contagious the coronavirus can be, how there are attitudes that the virus is “overblown,” and how that attitude can be carried into school by students. How the “challenges of social distancing in a school setting is antithetical to who children are.”
“These and so many other factors create a situation where returning to school is challenging at best, and lethal at worst,” the letter said.
The WEA complimented the Wayne School District’s efforts to develop a safe plan and thanked them for including the WEA’s input, but also said: “With every new day and every new question comes the realization that making social distancing work under the current climate and time is a nearly impossible task.”
Admitting that online virtual learning is a poor substitute for traditional classroom teaching, the WEA then added that they believe schools “should reopen as soon as possible, but at this point, setting a date of return is premature, arbitrary, and potentially catastrophic.”
The letter ended with the WEA’s clear position that a return to school can only happen “when the virus has deescalated to a point where we can honestly tell our parents, children and you, our members, that it is safer for us to be in the physical classroom than not.”
“The WEA sees only a very narrow path for the opening of schools in September. As such, we assert that the only proper course at this time is to plan for distance learning this fall with an eventual return to the classroom when it is safe and logistically possible to do so."
The next virtual Wayne Board of Education meeting is Thursday, August 6. Wayne parents are eagerly awaiting the final plan for school in September that is supposed to be revealed at this meeting.
This is the letter in its entirety:
Dear WEA Members,
We hope that you are all doing well and staying safe.
The last months have been difficult for us all. Our world has seemingly turned inside-out and upside-down, all at the same time. As the new school year now approaches, we need to focus on the new challenges ahead of us this September. It is also important that we know what those challenges are as soon as possible so that we can prepare for them.
As you may recall, New York and New Jersey were among the first to get hit by the pandemic. Both Governors Murphy and Cuomo seemed to understand the magnitude and the danger of the virus and, despite their share of critics, took the decisive steps of listening to the experts, following the data and accepting the science. They took clear, decisive steps based on the facts. The result was that the two states saw empirically positive results from their efforts. The WEA notes and applauds the actions of these two governors. However, as this virus spread to less “accepting states”, those states’ governors hesitated or refused to act. As a result, the South and West are currently spiking out of control. This is also a noteworthy and important lesson: when we do anything but take this virus seriously, the consequences are consistently dire.
We have also recently seen the proclivity of people - often seemingly intelligent adults - clustering together despite warnings and without proper safety precautions. Getting children to comply with the challenges of social distancing in a school setting is antithetical to who children are. We are even in a time where many people still believe that the whole virus concern is overblown. There will be students coming to school who will be sharing this view, making compliance nearly impossible. These and so many other factors create a situation where returning to school is challenging at best, and lethal at worst.
Many have written or called us, adding to the scores of legitimate questions regarding the logistics of returning to school. As you know, we are burdened by long-term societal neglect of our school systems in the form of often antiquated buildings with inadequate ventilation and room adaptability. There is little that can be done to remediate the risks that these rooms pose while the virus is active. Our administration and Board have made every effort to develop as safe a plan as practical. They have included the WEA and our members in the discussions and planning. We appreciate their openness, effort, and determination in giving our students and staff as much support and accommodations as is financially feasible. But with every new day and every new question comes the realization that making social distancing work under the current climate and time is a nearly impossible task.
We all know the difficulty in determining when it is actually safe to return to school. It is true that distance learning is a poor substitute for what we do in our classrooms every day. Furthermore, we recognize that students will not have the educational and emotional support they otherwise have had in past years. The WEA understands that need and the struggle, but our health and safety must clearly be our top priority.
The question of when it is safe to return is speculative at this point. We have heard people suggest or post a date of October 1, or after the first marking period, or perhaps the beginning of the calendar year. The WEA believes that schools should reopen as soon as possible, but at this point, setting a date of return is premature, arbitrary, and potentially catastrophic. We just witnessed Major League Baseball’s labored attempt at resuming normal outdoor activities. MLB is an organization with few financial limitations and wide-open spaces; our schools have no such luxuries.
The Wayne Education Association is taking the position that we can only return when the virus has deescalated to a point where we can honestly tell our parents, children and you, our members, that it is safer for us to be in the physical classroom than not. We do not claim to have the knowledge or insight at this point to say when that time will be. It is for these and for so many other reasons that the WEA sees only a very narrow path for the opening of schools in September. As such, we assert that the only proper course at this time is to plan for distance learning this fall with an eventual return to the classroom when it is safe and logistically possible to do so.
We will continue to keep you updated as things progress. As always, refer to the NJEA website for the latest updates on this fluid situation.
Stay safe and well.
Your WEA Officers,
Eda, Donna, Kerrian, Rob, Dennis & Brian