WEST ORANGE, NJ - Dr. Scott Cascone, superintendent of the West Orange School District, will be hosting a public health town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss the options for reopening schools, a topic that has become a polarizing one in the community.
Cascone addressed the parents and students with the following e-mail Tuesday night:
Dear West Orange Public School Community:
I hope this finds you all well and having had a restful, long weekend. I wanted to provide you with an update as to the plans and deliberations relative to the reopening of schools.
On Friday afternoon, Board President Trigg-Scales and I met with the West Orange Mayor, Director of the West Orange Office of Emergency Management, Director of the West Orange Department of Health, head nurse of the West Orange Department of Health, public health and environmental specialist from the West Orange Department of Health, and our district physician Dr. Kelly.
I asked a lot of questions, as well as shared with them what our plans were relative to a staggered and measured reopening of schools. None of the public health and or medical experts at the meeting advised against a staggered opening. The two-week average positivity rate is 9.15% (8%,10.3%), for the 14-day period immediately following the holidays.
The support of the local Department of Health and district physician, just as it was in November, is sufficient rationale and expert intelligence for me as the superintendent to make the decision to reopen schools just as it was in November to postpone reopening. However, I also understand and must be mindful of the strong difference of opinion on the matter within the community, as well as a counter public health narrative of worsening conditions being espoused and widely broadcasted.
As such, I acknowledge that additional deliberative strategies will be necessary. We are about to embark on as complex an operational endeavor as there is in public education, all of us divided and many fearful and worried. Regardless of where you may stand on the issue, I think we can all agree that this is not a recipe for success for our community and by proxy, children; they are watching.
Therefore, and once again, I will facilitate a conversation for the community and in public transparently on Thursday night in the form of a public health town hall meeting. However, this time, in addition to local experts, I will be inviting independent public health, medical, and mental health professionals. The objective discussion about the reopening of schools will happen publicly. My decision as to whether to move forward on January 25th with the K-2 students will be communicated on Friday morning.
Below is the meeting link and passcode information:
Public Attendee Link:
https://woboe-org.zoom.us/j/85682378206?pwd=akVyaUw1WlZabTRjUFlwd21WYU15UT09 Webinar ID: 856 8237 8206
In the meantime, this week, we have a very small number of students in, and our K-2 teachers, as expressed to them last week, can come in at such times that they deem appropriate with their building principal to make any necessary preparations for Monday should the district move forward with plans to reopen for its youngest learners.
In closing, I wanted to share with you something which speaks to the student voice, which has been seldom heard amidst the clamor of adult voices on both sides of the argument. It is an excerpt from a poem written by a 4th-grade student when I made the decision in November to postpone. The emotional pain and isolation which many of our children are experiencing is real and must be considered in the final decision. One might argue that this has become bigger than any of us; the salvation of our children:
Now again we hear of sorrow, no more school now on the morrow.
I had trust and hope before...now I do not, anymore.
Although hundreds of thousands of tears are shed, our weeping has only led to the dark and hurt of ruined hope, to the finger pointing and saying “nope”
Now, I am afraid to wish for better.
I thank you in advance for your time and attention and wish you a good day.
Dr. Scott Cascone, Superintendent of Schools