OPINION: It’s Essential that Teachers Are in the Classroom to Start School Year

Essential workers is a term we have become very familiar with in 2020.

First responders, nurses and doctors have always been on that list. Grocery workers joined that group during the coronavirus pandemic.

Throw in the small businesses that have struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, with owners and employees having to change on the fly how they operate in order to put food on the table. 

This weekend, New Jersey continued to reopen its economy with the opening of movie theaters and indoor dining. All these workers have gone back to work, essential to society getting back on track. 

Which raises the question: Why can’t teachers and school administrators do the same? 

Let’s be clear: We back the decision to let districts make their own decisions as each school faces different challenges. Additionally, we believe that online-learning is needed to manage capacity limitations at schools that simply cannot accomplish this safety measure.

Outside of that, there is no excuse for schools that have the room for social distancing to delay in-person schooling.

Ask yourself this: How does it make sense to hold practices for Fall sports at a school that has no students in their building? 

The truth is most New Jerseyans have acted responsible during the public health emergency. Residents are following the protocols in overwhelming majorities. And students and their families have slowly resumed their social lives.

All of this has been done while key health metrics such as rate of transmission and daily positivity rate are among the lowest in the nation.

So again we ask: Why are some schools not including in-person schooling top start the school year, a stated goal of Gov. Phil Murphy?

Last week, the New Jersey School Board Association put out a report stating the challenges schools are facing, with the top of the list being teacher shortages. The shortage is a result of teachers retiring or putting in for a leave of absence rather than being in the classroom this year. Additionally, school boards have been unable to have enough substitute teachers ready to go.

In North Jersey, the state has shown that schools are at a low risk when it comes to holding in-person learning. The same protocols that have been proven effective for doctors appointments and going to your favorite restaurant are easily applied to schools.

It’s time for teachers and other staff members in North Jersey to get back to the classroom. We are not asking any more from these essential workers key to our society anything more than first responders, waitresses and movie ticket collectors. School administrators—and Gov. Murphy—should be pushing for teachers to return to the classroom so children can return to a desperately needed normalcy they have not had since March.


  1. So the real issue is COVID19 has not been contained, and the aging population of workers has not been addressed in education, we have know for a long time that baby boomers who can would be retiring, what was the solution and plans put into motion by schools leadership? Nothing. Now we have a virus that is deadly and more deadly for aging population and those with previous conditions. We also really do not know the long term damage done to young people who have been exposed to this virus. To say that teachers need to put themselves in harms way when leadership didnt do their jobs is a bit unfair and reckless. Our country our ecomony and our way of life will not get back to pre covid19 until we solve this health crisis.

    1. Very well said. Normalcy is good, and I recognize it’s been difficult for everyone, but sending kids back to school means a whole lot of parents and grandparents don’t survive to get to see graduation, let alone whatever chronic issues the kids and others wind up with.

    2. How can we take a calculated risk with the lives of our children. What if they do contract COVID-19 and survive? Will they be predisposed to chronic ailments?

  2. The following statement reflects the tilt away from facts and toward your pre-determined opinion.

    “The same protocols that have been proven effective for doctors appointments and going to your favorite restaurant are easily applied to schools.“ This is demonstrably false, at best an extreme exaggeration.

    With regard to Dr.’s offices, patients are first screened by phone, wait in their cars until paged, are screened for temperature before entering the reception area, and are escorted directly into an exam room. Drs. and nurses wear full PPE, scrub down all contact surfaces between each patient, and spend at most 15-30 minutes with each individual patient.

    Restaurants are open at only 25% capacity, with mandatory 6’ separation of tables, and patrons spend at most 60-90 minutes, typically with members of their immediate family.

    In-person school, for full or half day, with students of varied capacity to follow masking and social distancing requirements, is nothing like doctors offices or restaurants. Your comparison is ridiculous.

  3. HORRIBLE logic (or lack, thereof). You cannot fairly compare the environment in a school with hundreds or thousands of young kids, all of whom almost always have some virus or other, and will likely be a petri dish full of COVID-19. Kids do not practice proper hygene, won’t wear masks, and will sneeze, cough, wipe, etc. their infectious fluids all over for teachers to breathe in. Grocery store workers don’t have to encounter anything near that, though I personally favor closing stores to all but delivery and curbside pickup in order to reduce the number of different people the essential workers must come into contact with (i.e. just each other). In hospitals, family members and others are similarly not allowed in, in order to protect everyone from the virus, including nurses and doctors. Teachers are proportionately much older as a whole, and therefore more vulnerable than generally younger grocery store workers. In short, your idea is a terrible one, and dangerous to the health and well being of teachers, students, and especially to families, who may have vulnerable members, including older grandparents and great grandparents. The virus is transmitted via aerosols, including and especially in restrooms when toilets are flushed. Imagine hundreds of kids all using the toilet and flushing their aerosolized contents for all to breathe. Once the cold weather hits, more and more people will be forced indoors and the virus will spread like mad during that time. No, we need all online learning or nothing.

  4. Scientists have said that it is better to limit interactions with people to 10 minutes or less. Yet you’re advocating teachers spend 7-8 hours in a room with 12 or more students. Many of the school buildings are old and poorly ventilated. We’ve seen what in person schooling led to in other states. NJ might have low transmission rates and positivity now, but we’ve seen how rapidly that can change. Many schools have neither the number of shields and protective supplies they need nor the money or time they need to renovate ventilation systems. Most schools plan to start remote, and slowly add in person learning. Even when in person schooling resumes, its not going to be the “desperately needed normalcy” you’re seeking. Teachers and administrators are working hard to define the “new normal”. Your editorial assumes that there are schools that have low enough enrollments and large enough classrooms to handle social distancing requirements for their student body. At best, even in North Jersey, these schools are not the majority. Give us some examples of schools that have that much space in ALL their classrooms and are not doing some in person classes. And tell us what percentage of the parents in those districts are asking for in person classes.

  5. Most schools don’t have the space or the ventilation system to do what you suggest. While patients and customers float in and out, are not sitting in the presence of clerks, cashiers, or even doctors and nurses for hours on end, students are. Teachers don’t have licenses to teach all subjects and all grades which means for those students in middle and high schools, as well as some elementary schools, are not able to stay stationary in one class. This is true also for students receiving special education.

    Teachers are people too. They have pre-existing conditions that fall on the CDC list or might be caretakers to elderly family members. Some educators are older and do not wish to risk their health; they’ve chosen to retire after serving for at least 25 years. As an educator, I personally do not have a preference of whether my district returns for in-person instruction or goes remote, even though I have an underlying condition, care for my parents and grandmother, all over the age of 75 with underlying conditions; and my husband, whose immune system is compromised. However, I can’t, nor will I, sit in judgement of my colleagues who are choosing to do what is best for their families, and neither should you!

    And for those who believe teaching virtually is easier than being in a classroom, I’m here to tell you that it is 10 times harder! I’m not asking you to “feel my pain,” but human to human, I’m asking for some consideration.

  6. Let’s make this very simple. Children, teachers, and the families they come home to , including, in many cases, elderly grandparents, did not sign up to be lab rats in a science experiment that could – and inevitably will – lead to death. Playing medical Russian Roulette is not in any teacher’s contract I know. It doesn’t matter if some parents want babysitters as opposed to teachers, and politicians care more about business and short term economic gains than they do about their constituents’ lives.

  7. I agree with the comments above. The person advocating that most, if not all, schools should open in person has very little idea of what will go on in most schools. While schools that open in person may start out okay, dollars to donuts the virus will catch up to them and will cause havoc. Kids will be kids and teachers will have a hard time enforcing strict rules of social distancing and sanitation. I substitute teach and do not intend to go back to in person classes until there is a vaccine that is safe and really works.

  8. IF ( and that is a HUGE if) the teachers are tempertaure checked daily, tested regularly, paid full salary if they are quarantined, and supplied with PPE at no cost to them, then sure, they should come back.

  9. I am a Mother, a Grandmother, and a retired School Nurse from a Southern NJ Elementary School. Until we have an approved vaccine for use in the US, by the Scientific community that is safe, there should be no in house classes in schools.

    When you open up schools, you put everyone at risk, you increase contact history and in turn can cause the virus to explode. As a parent, I would have kept my children at home and engaged in Virtual Education, as a Grandmother I stay at home only going out for essential supplies and follow state mandates.. As a retired registered Nurse with a specialty in School Nursing, I follow the CDC, guidelines recommended by the State of New Jersey. If everyone followed this model, our numbers would go down and abate. Until that time, we have to follow what is the right protocol and not the business model which is only based on money and not on the llves of all who work and learn in the School Community.

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