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.