WEST ORANGE, NJ — As Jan. 19 approaches, teachers have been vocal with their concerns about transitioning to hybrid instruction at recent West Orange Board of Education meetings, but some parents believe that it is time for those who want the option to have their children be in person at West Orange Public Schools (WOPS) to be given a chance.
In a letter that was released to the community hours before the Jan. 13 WOBOE public policy meeting, Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone mentioned that almost “3,900 students whose parents, guardians, or caretakers have elected for hybrid instruction.”
He continued that although the decision “weighed heavily,” the district will “attempt to accomplish that for which we have planned and prepared for the last six months.”
“That’s basically my only request,” said Donna Plantier, West Orange parent and essential government worker, in a phone interview with TAPinto West Orange.
As the mother of a 5-year-old who is entering kindergarten, Plantier says that her daughter got to experience in person instruction when she was enrolled at Community House, which operated within Kelly Elementary School.
Before entering, children were given a temperature check, wore masks, and parents were asked a series of questions about COVID exposure before going into the building.
“So, my logic is if you’re using the school to let someone teach, how can you not use it for hybrid,” she said.
When her daughter had to transition to virtual, when Kelly Elementary closed suddenly due to a COVID exposure, Plantier said that many concerns were brought to light including her daughter’s ability to navigate to different classrooms and emotional issues because her daughter was not able to see her friends in person.
“You can’t let a 5-year-old or a 7-year-old independently work while you’re in the other room trying to do office calls or what have you,” she said.
Plantier added that doing hybrid gives children the ability to see each other and to see their teacher other than in a virtual space.
“Personally, I think there’s certain ways that the teacher could see if anything’s going on with her, like whether my daughter needs additional help, like doing an IEP,” she said. “I think you can assess that more if you see a child in person versus online. So that’s why I believe in at least starting with hybrid and then after hybrid see what happens.”
Anna Markh, a West Orange parent and essential healthcare worker, shared in an email to TAPinto that in addition to not being able to stay home with their 5-year-old daughter for remote learning, she and her husband felt that it was not “developmentally appropriate” for children to learn in front of a computer screen.
Because she was not given the option for in-person learning by the school district, Markh’s daughter has been attending private kindergarten full time and in-person since September with no issues.
“The safety protocols work,” Markh said. “We know how to keep schools safe.”
Markh continued that even though many teachers fear that reopening school will lead to a rise in cases, there is no evidence to support that.
She mentioned a report from the CDC which came out this week about COVID incidence levels between the ages of 0-24 and she said it found that “there is no difference in infection rates in communities where schools are open vs those where schools are closed.”
“we know the precautions work in schools such as universal masking, 3-6 ft distancing, smaller classes, increased infection control, and good ventilation,” she said. “Let’s use those guidelines and get our schools open.”
However, some parents including Tammy Cowley, whose husband recently passed due to COVID-19 wanted people at Wednesday’s WOBOE meeting to understand that the current situation is bigger than their children or “figuring out what reading level they’re at.”
“This virus is like a tornado, it comes down your street and it rips off the roofs of some houses and then it tears the siding off some of the other houses and then it completely destroys the house,” she said. “Just one house and that happened to be my house.”
She continued that she and her husband did everything right by wearing masks and increasing hand washing, but “he’s not here.”
Board member Melinda Huerta also shared that her household is “very divided” because her husband is high risk, but two of her four children who are in WOPS are struggling with virtual learning.
“Emotionally it’s been a nightmare,” she said. “They’re just very tired.
However, she added that last week’s board of education meeting was the first time that she had been in the same room with people without a mask.
“I was actually really terrified to be honest, but I had to have confidence and trust the people in the room with me; that they’re also being safe,” she said. “It is a scary thing, but it gets easier.”
After hearing from teachers and other members of the community, Cascone wondered if Gov. Phil Murphy had received “this kind of heartfelt, emotional feedback.”
“If so, why is the public education system being sent down this path?” he asked.
“I think these are all questions that are worthy to ask of our overseeing authorities, which have essentially put us down this path for which we’ve been preparing for the last six months.”
The next meeting, which will be virtual is on Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m.