What to Know
- The South Orange and Maplewood Education Association and the school district previously reached a deal for additional students to return, but the union completely backed out of the deal Monday night
- The union said in its announcement that its teachers will teach only virtually until at least March 15 and called on the school district to abide by their previous agreement to strictly enforce safety protocols.
- According to data received Thursday from the health department, the district said there have been just 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases, all of which were contracted from outside of school
A small percentage of students attending a New Jersey school district got the OK to return for in-school instruction next week after a breakdown in negotiations sent everyone back to virtual learning indefinitely.
The South Orange and Maplewood School District made robocalls to parents Friday evening informing them of a new agreement reached with the teacher's union after a nine-hour mediation session to bring back the "most vulnerable students" for in-person learning.
"Special Services self-contained and English Language Learners (students across all grade levels) and Pre-K students who have chosen hybrid-instruction, will return to school buildings for in-person instruction (following their pre-assigned cohort schedules) on March 1," the district stated in a letter. The district said it will continue mediation "in hopes of having all students and staff return to continue Phase 3 in-person instruction as soon as possible."
The change in instruction protocol comes more than a week after the union completely backed out of a deal reached on Feb. 15 for additional students to return to hybrid learning. In response, the district had said all students would have to go back to all-virtual learning "indefinitely."
"We are disappointed that our Phased reopening plan has again been disrupted. As we will lack the faculty necessary to staff the buildings, the District will resume virtual-only instruction indefinitely pending discussion with SOMEA’s representatives and consultation with our labor counsel as to remedies that will facilitate resumption of our hybrid reopening plan," the district told parents.
The announcement also came just hours after the district delayed the next phase of additional grades returning to April 19 due to "challenges presented by winter months to our buildings."
Students in K-2, 6 and 9 grades were the only ones that went back to in-person classes on Jan. 19 in two cohorts that go two days a week each. They will now have to stay home again.
"I don't know what to think. I was shocked today when this came out later because the district had just announced at 4 o'clock or so this afternoon about the next phase not happening quite yet for the older kids," said Kendra Kessler, a mother of two. "A few hours later to be blindsided by this. We had just packed up her backpack, ready to go to school tomorrow and then this came."
The union said in its announcement that its teachers will teach only virtually until at least March 15 and called on the school district to abide by their previous agreement to strictly enforce safety protocols.
The South Orange-Maplewood School District, teachers and parents have been at odds for months over the safety of returning to school buildings, with the teachers claiming that the district has repeatedly failed to fix safety and health violations.
SOMEA says that the district intentionally ignored safety requirements from the start, claiming that the schools fail to keep classroom temperatures above required levels. The union said building administrators shut windows to circumvent accurate room temperature readings during their building walkthrough.
Teachers said they have had to address "dozens of instances across buildings of staff and students being placed in unfit rooms" since they returned on Feb. 1.
They added that the time spent addressing safety issues "led to significant losses of preparation time and instruction riddled with unnecessary interruptions."
Meanwhile, the school district said that the disagreement was about 34 workspaces and complaints about more than a dozen of them were brought to the district's attention only as recently as Saturday. The district also added that there has been no evidence of in-school transmission.
According to data received last Thursday from the health department, the district said there have been just 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases, all of which were contracted from outside of school.