(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris), vice-chair of the Assembly Education Committee and former member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, released the following statement on efforts to reopen K-12 schools as New Jersey continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic:
“As we lived through the raging COVID-19 pandemic last summer, with vaccine development in its infancy, the issue of schools reopening was at the forefront. At the time, a one-size-fits-all plan was being considered by the New Jersey Department of Education, which led to my introducing legislation aimed at giving school districts the needed latitude to determine a course of action in the best interest of their students, teachers, families and the greater community. The Murphy administration wisely chose to allow districts to proceed in that manner and provided invaluable assistance to ensure devices and connectivity were available to make remote learning possible. I applauded that decision then, and I stand by it now.
“Nearly a year to the day when we faced a statewide shut down in an effort to stop the virus’ spread, we are all anxious to see schools reopen. Learning delay, social emotional needs and burgeoning mental health issues are very real concerns.
“With that said, the diversity of our state’s 584 operating school districts cannot be underestimated or discounted. By definition, there are a myriad of divergent needs and concerns that simply cannot be addressed by universal guidance. That which may benefit one district may well be unstainable, or even detrimental, in another. It is the functional equivalent of comparing a wealthy district to a large, underserved district, and an attempt to do so is unreasonable and unfair to both. For these reasons, the decision as to how best to deliver instruction has been left in the most capable hands of the Boards of Education who, in concert with their superintendents, understand the needs and the challenges facing their students, teachers and facilities better than anyone.
“Universal school reopening is, in my view, dependent upon the availability of vaccinations for teachers and demonstrated ventilation adequacy in interior spaces where windows cannot be opened as the weather improves. Governor Murphy has included teachers in the next vaccine eligible group, and every report indicates that the supply chain will soon increase dramatically.
“I understand the frustration and ire of parents who want to see their children back in school and believe that the most districts have worked tirelessly to provide as much in-person opportunity as they believe circumstances permit. Patience has been exhausted and COVID-fatigue is tangible. I have every confidence that conditions will continue to improve and schools will reopen as we find our way to at least a semblance of normalcy.
“Our state’s teachers deserve nothing less than our thanks and our support for all they have done during a most difficult year. Our state’s Board of Education members have faced momentous challenges, and they too deserve our appreciation. I commend their efforts and look forward to the safe return to school for all of New Jersey teachers and students.”