Thomas Park via Unsplash

Gov. Phil Murphy stated last spring that New Jersey schools would not be permitted to offer a virtual option for the 2021-22 school year, but Montclair Public Schools have chosen to defy the governor’s orders.

It’s understandable that parents and students are concerned about COVID-19 because of the Omicron surge in our town and across the country. However, allowing parents to choose virtual instruction sets a double standard. Students that are currently learning virtually may be high-risk, live with older or immunocompromised family members or suffer from anxiety about becoming infected with COVID-19. These same circumstances also apply to staff in the buildings, yet they do not have the option to work remotely. The district is clearly showing that they value the safety concerns of families over those of staff.

I would choose to teach in-person over remote instruction because I accept the current level of risk, but some of my colleagues may not feel the same. I wear a tight-fitting high-quality mask, I’m fully vaccinated and the windows in my room are open. But, if these COVID-19 mitigation strategies are not acceptable enough during the surge for families, why are they deemed good enough for staff? 

When the district made the announcement on Dec. 31, staff learned about the virtual option plan at the same time as families. We were not included in the conversation and it was not acknowledged that staff was being held to a different standard regarding safety concerns compared to students. The current policy helps create an us-vs.-them mentality, which is not conducive to a healthy relationship between the community and school employees.

I’m stating the obvious when I say that all of us, children and adults, are living through trying times. I want to show up every day and be a positive force in my students’ lives. But when teachers and staff don’t feel that their safety concerns and needs matter, it affects our mental health and makes it more challenging to be the supportive adults that children need. On top of that, hybrid instruction is an ineffective instructional method. We don’t have the technology to make hybrid instruction fluid and effective for both students in front of us and at home. 

The district also made the decision to allow students who chose virtual instruction to attend in-person club and sports activities after school. Some of the worst outbreaks in school happened during sports practices, and although students are now required to wear masks during practice, it’s difficult to understand why a student would feel uncomfortable learning in person yet comfortable at a sports practice. Actually, it’s more difficult to understand why the district set this policy. 

There has been much talk about how we can all get through this together and statements from the district that they appreciate the staff. The words feel empty, though, when the decisions clearly reflect that the district places more importance on families’ safety concerns than the people who are doing the teaching day in and day out.

Susan Eckert
Montclair

Editor’s note: While an executive order allowing for remote instruction in New Jersey schools has expired, state law allows it under certain circumstances, when school will be remote for at least three days under a public health emergency or at the direction of a local health department. Montclair Local has reached out to the state Department of Education for clarification on how that law may apply in situations like Montclair’s, where the public district has offered the temporary option of remote learning, but in-person classes are still being held.


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