The Hammonton School District, like others throughout South Jersey, diligently prepared for the reopening of classes under the state’s extensive and strict guidelines for education during the pandemic.
City Board of Education and administration officials worked cooperatively to safely provide students with the in-person instruction they need and that parents overwhelmingly want.
The schools this week reopened carefully, providing students with two days a week of classes, with one group attending Mondays and Thursdays and the other Tuesdays and Fridays.
Staff and students are required to wear masks. Classroom capacity has been halved and desks have been socially distanced. Parents are screening students and staff members are screening themselves each day. Disinfecting protocols have been established throughout schools and buses, and hand sanitizer is readily available. Temperatures will be taken as needed and isolation rooms are ready for symptomatic individuals. Contact tracing ability is set up in case it’s needed. Bus routes have been adjusted to keep occupancy below 50%.
Kelli Fallon, school board vice president, told the Hammonton Gazette it was “a team effort — from administrators, teachers and staff to parents, students and community members. We all need to do our part to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
One key stakeholder that needs to join and work with the team is the local teachers union.
Last week the teachers union mischaracterized the district’s reopening plan as including a “blanket refusal” to allow any teacher to work from home. It put this bogus claim into the media while calling for a big protest against the reopening at the final school board meeting before the resumption of classes.
Then union officials admitted that teachers with health problems who preferred to work from home had in fact been accommodated by the district. Then finally it came out that some teachers were allowed to work from home to accommodate potential risks to other family members.
There’s no basis for teachers unions to seek relief from work that’s not routinely available to employees everywhere. In Europe, many public schools stayed open or quickly reopened in the spring, and all are reopening now. Data there show teachers contract coronavirus at the average rate for all workers.
Children are at very little risk of COVID. The special and intolerable risk to them and parents is from online instruction. That deprives all kids of critical social development and already has cost them an estimated third of this year’s gains in reading ability and half of their math skills. For these and other reasons, all of the top medical science experts, agencies and organizations recommend a return to in-person classroom education.
Parents not only need what’s best for their children, they need to get back to work for the health of their family and the nation. American society has long been structured and scheduled to allow tens of millions of caregivers to work while kids are in school. The nation can’t afford to throw that away as a special favor to teacher unions.
Teachers unions in Hammonton and elsewhere focus on extracting pay raises, pensions and benefits from government. In this pandemic, they must also consider the interests of students, parents and communities.