WEST ORANGE, NJ — A group of West Orange parents has circulated a petition with more than 700 signers so far imploring the school district to reconsider opening schools in the district for in-class learning until teachers can be vaccinated.

The letter was sent to Schools Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone and the Board of Education Sunday with over 700 co-signers from the community asking that in-person instruction be delayed. 

West Orange public school students have not been inside a classroom in more than 10 months. The COVID-19 pandemic was declared last March. 

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This letter/petition comes less than a week after a letter was released to the community by Cascone in which he said that almost “3,900 students whose parents, guardians, or caretakers have elected for hybrid instruction.”

There also are many parents in the community who have said that classrooms do need to be reopened for the well-being of the kids who have been doing all their schooling online for the entire school year.

Sunday's letter to Cascone urging the district to keep school classrooms shut and kids at home reads:

“Dear Dr. Cascone and Members of the Board of Education,

We are writing to you as concerned parents, dedicated teachers, other school personnel, and community members to ask that we delay in-person instruction until teachers are able to be fully vaccinated. A delay will keep teachers safer, which will keep our children, families and community safer. Just today, Mayor Parisi added the hashtag #highestweektotalintwomonths to his town Covid infection update. As heartbreaking as this is for all of us, we know this is not the right time to attempt in-person instruction. 

On Friday 1/15, we created and shared a petition calling for a delay of in-person instruction. In less than 48 hours, over 700 community members have signed this petition, in sharp contrast to the fewer than 300 demanding in-person instruction now, which was created a month ago. 

Dr. Cascone has said, “I knew that we needed to begin the preparations to open so that if and when we saw the positivity rate dip below 10%, we’d be prepared to open.” But it hasn’t. The reality is that the 7 day positivity rate in West Orange as of Jan 15th was 10.32% (from 190 positive cases). A new strain is potentially 70% more contagious, and experts believe it is very likely in NJ. This virus is by no means contained, but it can soon be with widespread vaccination. Delaying in-person instruction until that is a reality for our teachers and other school personnel is not only wise, it is the humane solution for all. 

We thank you all for your dedication to keeping our community and children safe, and understand each and every decision you’re making right now is carefully considered. While we know hybrid learning is scheduled to begin soon, it is not too late to change course. We know that protecting teachers and other school personnel to the best of our ability is the responsible thing to do, at present.

Thank you for your time and consideration.”

West Orange Education Members released a statement over the weekend saying, “Time for vaccination. It's what we all seek, especially as this gets worse and worse."