MAHWAH, NJ — On Aug. 20, the Mahwah Public Schools administrative team said they would be moving forward with their plan to reopen schools for remote learning in September.
The same day, the Mahwah Education Association released a letter urging the district to reconsider.
In a letter, the association cited 15 instances in which the district's reopening plan "does not thoroughly cover" areas of the state's "Anticipated Minimum Standards."
These issues and more were shared with the district earlier this month, the group said. Though they didn't receive a reply, some of their concerns were addressed in a revised plan released by the district Aug. 18.
Those changes, however, are not enough, the group said. They have now asked the district to address an additional 15 guidelines.
"Clean all classrooms before new groups of students enter and have all cleanings performed by properly trained custodial staff according to CDC and OSHA guidelines.
Maintain documentation of all cleaning and make readily available for review.
Do not put staff at risk by requiring them to be physically in the buildings when deep cleaning is occurring.
Provide documentation of rooms with recent HVAC work orders and the corrective maintenance performed within the last year.
Inspect all HVAC units every other week after school starts to ensure continued functioning and provide documentation of inspections.
Have the HVAC system run at 100% for two hours before and after any occupied time.
Produce the results of the analysis/inspection of heating and ventilation systems in every room/instructional space that will be used providing/proving recirculated air has a fresh air component and filters for A/C units are maintained and changed according to manufacturer recommendations.
Provide a written procedure and schedule for cleaning/sanitizing buses between routes.
Produce documentation of training on manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products for employees who will perform cleaning and disinfecting as part of their job responsibilities.
Create a written plan for all rooms and instructional spaces to comply with social distancing standards to the maximum extent practicable. (This should include not only side-to-side spacing but also front-to-back spacing).
Create a written plan to limit the use of shared objects and cleaning procedures between use delineated by course/grade level. (Some courses/grade levels have been addressed such as elementary book sharing and high school science labs, but not all; for example, shared objects in pre-school and materials in middle school and/or high school art, woodworking, and robotics).
Develop a written protocol to prohibit the sharing of equipment for grades 6-12 physical education, or, if equipment must be shared, a written protocol and schedule to clean and disinfect between use.
Develop a written plan and schedule for students to wash hands for at least 20 seconds at regular intervals as outlined in DOE guidance.
Create a written plan for the process and location of the staff and student screening area.
Create a written policy for screening students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure that includes specific reference to students with disabilities and accommodations that may be needed in the screening process, as well as address the procedure for when a parent/guardian/student refuses to complete the attestation form."
The additional requests aren't coming from a place of frustration, the group said, but rather out of a desire to get back to school in the safest way possible.
"We understand the difficulty of the situation for the administration. They were tasked with creating a safe reopening in the midst of a pandemic and without substantial support from the state or federal government," the group wrote.
"The MEA has worked hard to foster a positive relationship with the administration and the Board of Education and we are proud of the collaborative and collegial negotiations that resulted in the settlement of a four-year contract last year. We don’t want to see the challenges posed by reopening schools set us back as a district."
Though saying they would likely open with their already approved hybrid model, the district didn't take a switch to remote learning off the table.
In their letter to the Mahwah Public School's community, the district doubled down on their plans, but added that a number of factors could force their hand.
The local health data, which we are monitoring, will have to maintain wellness.
The remaining and outstanding facilities and technology items on delayed shipment will need toarrive, as they are expected in-district in the coming days.
The outside transportation vendors having an unanticipated inability to meet the state-widedemand.
The New Jersey Department of Education requiring unanticipated and additional criteria before thestart of our schools’ reopening.
These conversations come after Gov. Phil Murphy threw a wrinkle into district planning across the state, when he signed an executive order giving districts the go-ahead to submit plans for fully remote learning on Aug. 13. Up until that point, individual students could decide to learn remotely, but districts couldn't choose an all-remote model.
In the lead up to Murphy's decision, education associations and teacher's unions across the state had been vocal in asking for a remote start.
The MEA was one of 70 districts in the county to sign a letter written by the Bergen County Education Association to the County Superintendent pushing for that remote start, citing health concerns around choosing not to.
"Simply put, our schools are not safe to open while New Jersey’s COVID-19-related indicators are so erratic, progressively revealing a negative and troubling trend. There is no argument that education and socialization are vital to Bergen County’s students; however, we should never put them at risk unnecessarily, when safer options, such as remote learning, are achievable," read the letter.
A joint statement citing health concerns from hybrid or in-person learning was also issued by the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, and the New Jersey Association of Principals and Supervisors, and the New Jersey School Nurses Association issued their own.
Still, not everyone in the area — or the township — is hoping for a remote start.
In Fair Lawn, a group of parents protested their district's decision to go remote on Friday night.
That group of parents balked at the idea that the risk was too high, even going so far as to say not sending kids to school would be "dangerous."
District administrators in Mahwah didn't go that far, but did say that trying to create a plan that eradicates all risk is a fool's errand.
"We have learned, over time, that we can mitigate risk through our behaviors, and are not able to – and have never been able to – eliminate total risk," the district said. "Our caution around health and safety exists to keep us vigilant. We cannot allow this caution, coupled with the ever-changing mandates from the Department of Education, to betray our optimism for a hopeful and successful start to the 2020-2021 school year."