The Urgency to Get Kids Back in Classrooms
TRENTON, N.J. – Today’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools remote meeting highlighted the importance of getting teachers and children back in the classroom for full in-person learning, said the committee’s Assembly Republican members.
Legislators, state officials, education advocates, and concerned parents discussed how New Jersey can successfully reopen schools while addressing the learning loss and the social emotional impact the pandemic has had on the students and teachers of New Jersey.
“I think everyone agrees that in-person learning is crucial, especially for children from our underserved communities that don’t have equitable access to the Internet and rely on school breakfast and lunch for their nutrition,” said Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Morris). “But since kids are still not in the classroom, it is evident that the key players are not prioritizing our families most in need. It is time to fully fund schools so that they have what they need to reopen.”
Education spending for this school year is the same as last. Murphy’s plan to increase funding by $335 million was scrapped because of revenue concerns due to the coronavirus. How the federal Covid-19 relief funding the state receives for K-12 education is being spent remains unknown.
“We can’t wait until March to reconvene another meeting,” stressed Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-Monmouth). “The subject matter is just too important to put it off another month. It is imperative that the Department of Health be on our next call to discuss how we can safely get kids and teachers back to school as soon as possible. The learning loss and subpar education they are receiving is totally unacceptable and as we heard today not everyone is getting the same opportunities – our disadvantaged children are disproportionately suffering.”
On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that 190 school districts out of more than 600 remain remote only, while 95 have moved to in-person instruction. Twenty-one districts are offering a hybrid format that combines both remote and in-classroom learning and 35 have some combination of the formats. Districts like Newark, Trenton, Camden, Paterson, Pleasantville, and Jersey City have yet to return to in-person instruction. All are among the poorest districts in the state and part of what was formerly known as Abbott districts.
“Teachers are front-line workers and as such, should be able to receive the Covid vaccine,” said Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (R-Cape May), who is also the athletic director of Lower Cape May Regional High School. “Schools are important to children’s mental health, emotional well-being and provide support that cannot be replicated online. It’s time we move teachers up in the queue to be vaccinated – whether we use existing nursing staff and hold clinics at schools or ensure they can receive appointments at other vaccination sites – we need to make a plan and put it into action now. There are only a few more months of the school year left.”
Health care personnel, long-term care residents and staff, first responders and individuals deemed high risk for severe illness because of certain medical conditions are currently the only ones eligible to receive the vaccine.
Despite New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan speaking during the joint meeting, time did not permit her to take questions from all the legislators. As such, the Republican Assembly members are submitting a list of questions to the commissioner. They are looking for answers concerning statewide guidelines for reopening schools, mental health services for students, meeting the needs of special education students, the distribution of federal Covid-19 funding for K-12 education and more.
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Questions from Assemblywomen BettyLou DeCroce and Serena DiMaso and Assemblyman Erik Simonsen to Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan:
- Vaccines: Gov. Phil Murphy needs to prioritize teachers, staff, and administrators so in-person teaching can resume and continue. Why aren’t teachers being prioritized? Could the vaccine be given to teachers at nurses’ offices the way flu shots are administered?
- Reopening Plans: The Department of Education needs to have a comprehensive plan in place for safely reopening schools for in-person instruction. DOE should be a resource that provides tools, a vision, and standards for all school districts. What have you been working on as per guidelines with Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli? Do you plan to make the guidelines a mandate for all school districts or will they be left up to interpretation by each district? Leaving it up to individual school districts doesn’t seem to be working currently, so how would you propose we remedy that?
- Testing Waiver: Education advocates want the state to apply for a testing waiver. Does the Murphy administration support that? Will the DOE Commissioner petition the federal government for a waiver?
- Students’ Social and Emotional Health: Additional counselors and psychologists should be in districts when school resumes. What guidance is DOE giving to address our children’s social and emotional needs now and when schools reopen?
- Special Education: How are we meeting the needs of all our students? How are we accommodating Special Education students? How are we ensuring they aren’t losing valuable learning time and how do we ‘catch them up’? Do we allow for a gap year? Would we petition the federal government to allow for this gap year for the students? Should they be allowed an education until the age of 22 versus 21 due to this pandemic?
- English as a Second Language: How are English as a second language (ESL) students being taught? Since English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, how is the DOE ensuring these students are learning properly?
- Funding: DOE Commissioner Allen-McMillan spoke of millions of dollars of federal Covid-19 relief funding the state received that is dedicated for K-12 education. How are these funds distributed? Who decides how the funds are allocated and who gets what money? How much has New Jersey already received and where has the money been spent?
From the NJ Assembly Republicans at: https://www.njassemblygop.com/decroce-dimaso-and-simonsen-underscore-urgency-to-get-kids-back-in-classrooms-as-critical-questions-remain-unanswered/