New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli breaks down the COVID-19 numbers across the state, pointing out the much higher infection rate in Lakewood.
Asbury Park Press
HAZLET – A newly hatched school district plan to switch to all-virtual instruction for two weeks in November — so vacationing students could quarantine before returning to school — was nixed Friday after many parents objected.
Instead, traveling students will be able to opt for virtual home instruction for the two weeks of potential quarantine, if needed.
“We… heard… you,” Superintendent Scott Ridley said in a video posted on the district site Friday afternoon, later declaring, “we will rescind our intention to go virtual.”
He added that since his announcement of the plan Thursday, “our principals and central office have received numerous emails and calls questioning this decision. And while it was made with the absolute best of intentions to protect the safety and health of our students and staff, we would be remiss not to consider requests from both working parents and those whose children have begun to flourish since being back in school for real.”
He noted that the emails and calls were “at times, less than polite.”
The two-week virtual plan, announced Thursday, was aimed at allowing families leaving New Jersey during the district’s week-long fall break to quarantine upon their return if needed.
The fall break is from Nov. 2 through Nov. 6 and includes Election Day on Nov. 3, when school is closed, as well as Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, when schools statewide are closed for the NJEA teachers’ union convention.
Hazlet Superintendent of Schools Scott Ridley (Photo: Provided by Union Beach School District)
“During this time, a significant amount of both families and staff may leave New Jersey and many of them could be traveling to a state on Governor Murphy’s Quarantine List,” Ridley’s earlier directive to parents posted on the district website Thursday said. “This could conceivably result in a number of students and teachers having to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.”
The district is currently under a hybrid model that has students in kindergarten through sixth grade attending class in the morning. Those in middle school and high school rotate with two days each week in class and two days online. All non-elementary students are on virtual learning each Wednesday.
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But because of the post-break quarantine possibility, Ridley had planned to switch all classes to virtual learning for the two weeks following the break, from Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, then return to the hybrid model on Nov. 23. The district has 2,781 students.
The announcement set off a string of angry reactions from parents, many of whom said the disruption would limit their children’s education and force them to miss work or scramble to find child care.
“Why are you punishing everyone else? How many people are really going away?” said Natalia Gonzalez, a mother of two students. “There are a lot of unhappy people in town.”
She said the district is usually good at surveying parents and seeking input about such changes, but did not in this case.
“I don’t know why this was not disclosed, we have done surveys for other things, not sure why not this,” she said. “How does it make sense? What will happen after Thanksgiving break and Christmas break?”
Carolyn Polo, a Hazlet mother of three students, said “this was all thrown upon us with no warning, It is very difficult.”
Jennifer Therien, the mother of sixth grade twins, said other people’s travel plans should not affect her youngsters.
“Someone’s Disney vacation does not undermine my children’s education, this is wrong,” Therien said. “To put out a message to let people travel. You can travel and let them travel but why should it affect us? There was no thought and no input from parents, nothing.”
The decision had also prompted an online petition opposing the temporary virtual plan and urging that the fall break be changed or at least reviewed. It had 142 names as of Friday afternoon.
“An overwhelming majority of parents in this district wanted in-person education. They have surveyed us at every step — except for this,” the petition states. “The only way to voice an opinion is to speak up and be heard. Eliminate fall break for 2020. Stop promoting travel to Disney for ‘Jersey Week’. Start listening to your parents and your stakeholders. And keep these kids in school while the health risks are still minimal.”
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Ridley said in the video the reversal made more sense and the district would advise parents who choose to travel to take it upon themselves to quarantine if needed and follow safety protocols.
“We remind anyone who is traveling to a restricted state during that week to please have your son or daughter opt for remote instruction until a total of 14 calendar days have passed,” he said.
Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience who covers education and Monmouth County for APP.com and the Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of two books, including Killing Journalism on the state of the news media, and an adjunct media professor at Rutgers University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Reach him at [email protected] and at 732-413-3840. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp
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