On Wednesday, July 22nd, NJPSA Executive Director Patricia Wright appeared as an invited guest before the Assembly Education Committee to discuss issues related to school reopening and the NJDOE’s Restart and Recovery Plan for public education. For over three hours, members of the Assembly Education Committee heard from a broad group of invited guests that included NJPSA, superintendents, school nurses, parents, teachers and the association for local public health officers on the complexities of developing plans to reopen schools this fall. The committee members, including Chairwoman Pam Lampitt (D-6) asked thoughtful and detailed questions, reflecting a clear understanding of the challenges facing our schools. The committee did move two pieces of legislation:
ACR 190 –Petitions the federal government for emergency response funding to support safe reopening of schools following COVID-19 pandemic. NJPSA Supports
A-4378/S-2573 – Establishes the position of State School Nurse Consultant in NJDOE to promote quality school nursing services and school health programs. NJPSA Supports
Highlights of NJPSA Testimony
In presenting the priorities, continuing concerns and core principles of the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association, Pat Wright highlighted the following points to the committee:
- Clear, universal requirements on health and safety practices, not flexible guidelines, must be the foundation for school reopening in all school districts.
Science, not funding and the ability to employ the required personnel, should determine what needs to be in place to ensure maximum safety. Schools often are forced to “make due.” This, however, cannot be one of those times. We firmly believe we need to be in a position, regardless of monetary concerns, to provide the safest possible school environment for all stakeholders. Universal maximum health standards must be the bar or New Jersey will see a new inequity arise in our school system – an inequity in the level of health safety provided to students and staff across districts.
- In order to meet health guidelines, schools also need to acquire the appropriate PPE, cleaning products and equipment. We must ensure all schools have these necessary supplies. Schools are experiencing difficulty because of lack of availability and cost.
- On Monday, Governor Murphy announced that parents now have a choice of all remote learning, yet a school must continue to offer in person instruction in “some capacity” as another option. In order to evaluate this choice, parents need guidance and information from the Department of Health that will help them assess the risks. Knowing that every district must follow the same health guidelines is a vital first step. Parents should not be forced to compare whether children in District A are safer than children in District B. Teachers and other staff should also not be faced with those same comparisons.
- Legislative advocacy to increase funding for schools is essential.
Schools serve as a community hub providing for instruction, meals, student wellness and safety, student development and more. This pandemic has reinforced the importance of this central role. Even with the availability of CARES Act funding to most districts (41 received no funding), the reality is schools need funds to address the additional costs caused by the pandemic.
- The Restart Report creates a de facto duty of care that school districts must meet to ensure student safety. This will be difficult without funding, staffing, up-to-date facilities, and clear, universal health rules ensuring districts meet that duty of care. In this circumstance, we ask the Legislature to consider legislation to address the many liability issues within schools that the Restart Plan and the public health crisis create. With this perfect storm of circumstances, liability concerns must be fairly addressed. (Consider A-4426 (DePhillips), S- 2634(Gopal, O’Scanlon), and S-2703 (O’Scanlon).
- Principals, supervisors, teachers and all school staff are excited to welcome our students back for in-person learning, but only if and when we can do so safely in the ever-changing context of the coronavirus and with a renewed focus on New Jersey’s learning standards.
- School leaders understand that New Jersey’s closing of schools in March and our rapid move to remote learning was a necessary response to a public health crisis. We know this highlighted the lack of equity in terms of the digital divide. We understand the valuable role that remote learning will continue to play for our students. We understand the urgency and are using lessons learned over the last several months to build stronger virtual learning platforms.
- The first issue we need to address is universal student access to technology, devices and the internet. We applaud Governor Murphy’s announced initiative to address this critical need for our students.
- A second priority is the need to provide continuity of learning that is based on high quality standards-based instruction by developing state-wide resources and learning tools aligned to NJ standards that will support all teachers in the delivery of standards-aligned curriculum, instruction and assessment whether in the classroom or virtually.
- Lastly, professional learning for leaders and teachers is critical to address not only our instructional roles, but also the new roles and procedures we must master to safeguard our students in the school and classroom. Limited funding has put this critical professional learning at risk, yet we must prioritize these needs to foster students’ re-entry to learning, wellness and success.