Amy Albert is There for Kids in Crisis


For Women’s History Month, the Jersey City Times shines a spotlight on Amy Albert, founder and director of Haven Adolescent Community Respite Center, a drop-in locale where Albert and her staff of social workers, counselors and volunteers teach and mentor at-risk children.

Courtesy Amy Albert’s Facebook page

 In a clapboard two-family house in Jersey City known as Haven Respite, founder Amy Albert writes grants and designs programs to save children from falling through the proverbial rabbit hole. It was 2015 when Albert, a public defender and criminal defense attorney with 18 years’ experience, opened the nonprofit’s doors in response to the parade of children and teens he represented who were charged with minor offenses.

“I’ve represented kids in criminal and juvenile courts in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey,” Albert says, taking a short break in Haven Respite’s first-floor kitchen. “During the first part of my career in the courtroom representing kids, I started seeing a pattern: The kid would come in because they hit their brother, ran away, were pushed out or stole food, stuff that was more about family tension than it was about crime.”

Albert’s team oversees daytime services for teens in juvenile detention, a young mom’s support group, and an LGBTQ+ support group for kids 14 and under. After-school mentors help children with homework, and counselors teach everyday skills such as how to open a bank account and do laundry. Two volunteers take kids out for weekly one-mile runs.

A popular workshop, Albert says, is “Cook, Eat, Talk,” where children share what’s on their minds while they learn to cook a meal together.

“There’s incredible food insecurity in Jersey City,” Albert says. “Our kids are starving. We have kids not really living at home. They run away or  get kicked out, and they’re afraid to impose when sleeping on someone’s couch, so they don’t eat too much. Cooking creates community. It’s a great life skill and an easy one. ‘Hey mom, I can make the eggs today’. We do pizza, omelets, salads, stuff that’s easy enough that a kid can do by themselves. Kids are resilient. It’s not rocket science.”

In April, Albert will bring Cook, Eat, Talk to the Curries Woods housing project where the team will conduct life-skills workshops in addition to cook together.

Haven Respite offers a day-services program for children who are in juvenile detention. They spend up to 20 hours a week with counselors who help them with homework, coach sports and teach them about nutrition. Children are encouraged to pick a skill that they’re going to work on, and in return the kids gain both competence and confidence, Albert says.

Albert’s team also counsels parents. Social workers meet one on one with parents and discuss things like whom to call in an emergency, mindfulness techniques, how to resolve conflicts, and how to differentiate their personal issues from the issues of their children.

“It’s teaching kids how to take care of themselves,” Albert says. “We’re not trying to replace kids’ parents. Instead, we’re trying to teach both young kids and their parents skills so they can communicate better.”

Photo by Sally Deering

Albert writes grants to get funding for Haven Respite’s programs and receives financial support from individual donors as well as the Jersey City Municipal Alliance and the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services. She held a gala at the Factory restaurant in Bergen-Lafayette recently that raised $50,000. One of the honorees was Freeholder Bill O’Dea.

“Amy’s program is one that we are in dire need of,” Freeholder O’Dea said. “She has an amazing passion for helping and protecting our young people. I am proud to support her program.”

Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey also supports Albert’s mission along with other members of the city council and the school board including Jersey City School Superintendent Franklin Walker. Together, Walker and Albert have teamed up to design a “catch-up” program to help kids who have trouble progressing from eighth and ninth grades.

“We are working with Superintendent Walker on academic programming,” Albert says. “We’d like to provide an opportunity for them to have a smaller setting where they can address their underlying issues and catch up.”

Moving Forward

When asked if there are any children who moved on from the Haven Respite programs, Albert talks about two brothers who came to the center when it first opened. The older brother was disabled, and the younger brother, who was failing in school, would often leave home without permission. No one was paying attention to him, according to Albert.

“He came here for a number of years,” she says. “He then joined the National Guard, was sent overseas, and came home safe. Now he’s at Rutgers in New Brunswick, having his college education paid for by the National Guard. The older one graduated from high school and goes to community college.

 

For more info: www.havenrespite.org

Header: Amy Albert with Operational Director Jessica Taube, Director of External Relations Pam Johnson and Keith Storey, courtesy Amy Albert’s Facebook page

 

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Hudson County Partners to a Create a Stepdown Unit for Recovering COVID-19 Homeless Patients


Unit will provide relief to county hospitals so they remain focused on critical care and homeless shelters to lessen spread of the disease in vulnerable populations

Hudson County announced today that it has entered into a partnership with CarePoint Health and Alliance Community Health, a Federally Qualified Health Care Provider (FQHP), to create a step-down unit for recovering COVID-19 patients who are homeless in two currently unoccupied buildings near Christ Hospital in Jersey City, (169 Palisade Avenue) by the end of this week.

The purpose of the unit is to allow hospitals in Hudson County to discharge patients who initially tested positive for COVID-19 and were admitted but now are deemed fit enough for discharge but who are homeless.

Hospitals can only release patients who can demonstrate they have somewhere to go upon discharge. Having homeless shelters provide this for the recovering patient now would expose vulnerable populations with chronic health issues in the shelters to these still recovering individuals who could transmit the virus to them.

This new unit will help ensure that the health care system remains focused on critical care and able to provide the beds required for that mission and protect the shelter network from the spread of the virus.

The target population is homeless individuals demonstrating mild symptoms, who if they had stable housing would simply be released to recover at home.

The Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) will lease the space from CarePoint Health to set up what is known as a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) for the County in partnership with Jersey City-based Alliance Community Health,Inc., in order to provide this step-down unit for an anticipated 100 homeless clients at one time.

The HCIA will be reimbursed by the County Division of Welfare at the rate Welfare pays for shelter services provided by local hotels and motels with funds provided by the State Department of Family Development during this pandemic. The initial estimated cost to operate the unit will be $296,000 a month.

The step down unit for the recovering homeless will provide the following services to these recovering homeless individuals:

  1. 24-hour access to clinical care through a staff of doctors and nurses.
  2. Regular monitoring of inhabitants respiratory function.
  3. Monitor for potential relapse so a proactive decision can be made to re-admit a person into the hospital.
  4. Medically clear those in the homeless shelter population in isolation so that they can enter shelters again without concern that they might infect anyone in the shelter network, staff, volunteers, vulnerable fellow clients.
  5. Professional medical laundry and cleaning services, and medical waste disposal services.

A contractor that provides security at medical facilities in the region will do so for this new unit.

“I believe this is a sensible way to ensure that our hospitals can focus on providing critical care and our homeless shelters remain truly safe havens for those in need of them,” said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise. “I want to thank the leadership of CarePoint Health, the City of Jersey City and our dedicated team from the Hudson County Department of Family Services and the HCIA who put this together.This unit will help stop the spread of COVID-19. It will save lives.”

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Planning for the Unthinkable: What If COVID-19 Patients Overwhelm Medical Supplies?


Doctors, medical ethicists, and health professionals are crafting decision-making tools to ensure resources are used effectively and fairly

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Lilo H. Stainton

Imagine the unthinkable: Doctors at a hospital overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreak are left with one ventilator but multiple patients unable to breathe without it. Who gets care?

Government officials stress that New Jersey hospitals are not currently facing this moral dilemma. But if that time comes — and COVID-19 patients overburden the state’s health care system — they want clear and ethically sound plans in place to help frontline caregivers navigate these painful choices.

Health care leaders are now working with state officials to create decision-making ethics tools designed to maximize ventilators and other resources, while saving as many lives as possible. An ethics subcommittee of the Medical Society of New Jersey submitted draft guidelines to the state Department of Health on Friday.

“We are — all of us and all of our teams — committed to saving every single life we can in this state,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday at the state’s daily media briefing. But “we would be abrogating our responsibilities not to prepare for that awful potentiality” of scarce medical resources, he added.

Refocusing on needs of public

In fact, doctors, nurses and other clinicians are already being forced to rethink how they provide treatment, shifting from their traditional patient-centered focus to a broader approach that must also consider the needs of the public at large. Experts agree this is challenging for medical providers, who are trained to do all they can to save the patient in front of them.

“When the resource is scarce, the goal is to save the most lives with the resources available,” explained Dr. Hannah Lipman, a gerontologist and director of the Center for Bioethics at Hackensack University Medical Center, part of Hackensack Meridian Health. “When resources aren’t scarce, those two goals are not in tension.”

Hospitals around the nation are required to have some form of ethics committee or consultant group, but these entities typically help patients, their families and clinicians with end-of-life decisions specific to one individual, experts said. But with the COVID-19 pandemic — which has now infected more than 16,600 New Jerseyans, including 198 who died — these providers must now wrestle with the potential need to ration some aspects of care, should efforts to slow its spread and ramp up hospital capacity not be enough.

Ethical decisions allocating limited medical resources are highly complex and involve many variables — like age and underlying conditions — but experts said they generally center on survivability. While data on COVID-19 is still limited, patients with respiratory failure may need to remain on a ventilator for 10 days or more, they note.

“When we’re talking about access to that limited resource, the big threshold is survivability. Will this benefit you such that you can go on it, and recover enough so that you can come off it,” said Nancy Berlinger, a research scholar with The Hastings Center, a 50-year-old nonprofit focused on bioethics.

If doctors choose a patient who is unlikely to endure the treatment over one that is stronger, “you create bad outcomes for two people,” Berlinger added. The Hastings Center created a series of slides to help hospitals update their ethics policies in the current crisis.

Dealing with demographic disparities

Medical ethicists acknowledge that this approach raises difficult questions about demographic disparities, given the higher prevalence of certain underlying conditions — like asthma and diabetes — among African Americans. Advocates for disabled individuals also fear these citizens could be passed over when it comes to allocating scare resources.

These disparities are real and worrisome, Berlinger and other experts agree, but they can’t be resolved through ethics policies designed to allocate medical resources in an epidemic.  “We have to be very honest about the inequalities we have tolerated,” she said. “But this is not a great opportunity to make comprehensive social justice.”

That said, ethicists stress that public trust in the health care system is essential and people need to know they won’t be turned away if they are elderly or suffer from underlying health conditions. “The goal of saving the most lives requires consideration of the patient’s prognosis. Considerations of characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation are irrelevant,” Hackensack’s Lipman said.

Some decision-making ethics tools, like a model outlined last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, also prioritize treatment for health care professionals. Experts note this makes sense, given the critical role they now play in responding to the outbreak, but underscore the need to think carefully about who is included in this group; doctors, nurses and clinicians alone can’t operate a hospital without those who clean the floors, connect the equipment and transfer patients, for example.

New Jersey’s 71 acute-care hospitals are now required to provide the DOH daily reports on bed space, staffing levels, ventilators and stocks of personal protection equipment, or PPE, the gowns, masks and other critical supplies needed to protect frontline workers. The state is working to add bed space — reopening one closed hospital and setting up temporary facilities at three sites — and seeking to amass more PPE and ventilators from closed surgery centers and a federal stockpile.

DOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday she remains concerned about the supply of PPE and trained staff; the state is also working with professional organizations to expand workforce capacity. But while the impact of the state’s strict social-distancing measures is still being assessed, she remains confident there will be enough beds to accommodate the surge of patients expected to need hospital care in the coming weeks.

Ventilators remain in short supply

But New Jersey does not yet have enough ventilator units, officials said. Federal officials have provided at least 300 units, but Murphy requested 2,300 total and State Police are now working to purchase as many as 2,000 in case the Trump administration doesn’t fill the full order. Persichilli said they are also considering strategies to use one ventilator for multiple patients — an emergency protocol approved by federal officials — or converting anesthesia machines to instead provide breathing support.

“We just want to be prepared,” Persichilli said Monday. “We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Berlinger, with The Hastings Center, said putting two patients on a single ventilator is clearly a “workaround” and not a long-standing approved protocol; other workarounds are underway when it comes to the use of PPE, with clinicians re-using some items or opting for less protection than they would normally use, with federal approval. “You see a lot of ingenuity and you see a lot of heroism” in these situations, she said, “but at some point you have to say, ‘What if this doesn’t work’?”

That’s why state officials want a strategy in place to make sure the equipment is used to save as many lives as possible. The DOH declined to say when statewide guidance based on the MSNJ recommendations might be ready for distribution, but it is now working with retired state epidemiologist, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, on models to help hospitals allocate scare resources and deliver care as safely as possible during the crisis.

“We want to make sure that no matter what we do, that we give safe care,” Persichilli said.

The effort is greatly appreciated by hospital leaders, according to Cathy Bennett, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, which has worked closely with the state to assess and allocate resources. “Our healthcare system has a responsibility to plan for all scenarios in a public health emergency like COVID-19,” Bennett, a former state health commissioner, said. “We hope these crisis plans will not be needed, but appreciate that thoughtful and reasoned discussions are under way by medical ethicists.”

Hospitals have already been forced to adjust a host of operational policies in light of the coronavirus epidemic, restricting family visits and rethinking discharge or transfer plans to ensure patients with COVID-19 don’t further spread the disease. But ethicists said it made sense to have statewide guidance, so that public access to care is the same for all New Jerseyans.

“When you have a pandemic, it shouldn’t matter what hospital you go to,” said MSNJ president Larry Downs. “We might not get there, but there’s a chance we could.”

 

Header: Photo courtesy Dr. Tucker Woods

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new jersey department of education

Lessons Learned on Managing Remote Learning During COVID-19


Three New Jersey educators weigh in on how they, students and parents are adapting; they shared their thoughts in an NJ Spotlight/NJTV News virtual roundtable

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

Working from his kitchen, NJ Spotlight founding editor John Mooney spoke with three accomplished New Jersey educators for an hour-long discussion about the state of schooling and instruction two weeks into the coronavirus pandemic.

The conversation touched on the details — and challenges — of remote instruction on all levels, the importance of communicating with parents, how to grade students from afar, and even whether there will be a spring break this year.

And as closing advice, each had a tip for their fellow educators — and parents — that may prove useful.

The following are edited excerpts, and the full discussion can be watched here.

Typical school day

Q: So, tell us about your typical school day these days?

Dr. Danielle Kovach, special education teacher, second and third grades at the Hopatcong School District, New Jersey Teacher of the Year in 2011: The day starts just like every other. I wake up, I make my coffee. I may not always get out of my pajamas first thing in the morning, but I do start with communicating to my parents, sending them an email. I set up a Google Meet for my students, so my students and I meet every morning. We basically have some conversations. First, how are things going? How are things going with their work? We do our calendar. We greet each other, which is harder with video conferencing. But we’re working through those things.

Q: Do all of your students have video capabilities and online capabilities?

Kovach: No, and that’s been a huge challenge, as well. I have students who not only don’t have video capability, they don’t have internet and parents don’t have an email address. So in those cases, I just reach out to the parents directly through phone calls and just checking up as much as I can to make sure that they’re OK and they’re following through with their work.

Dr. Denise King, principal of B. Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington Township: I’m almost the same world — balancing home, work and school; staying up late hours, making sure that we communicate regularly. I’m on video or phone constantly. This is what I do all day now. I’m used to walking the building on a regular basis, checking in with teachers face to face, hugging students regularly, just making sure that everybody is good. I’m doing that again, but I’m doing it virtually.

So my day begins with plugging in, doing our digital chats with the central administrators, talking with case managers and teachers. And we do family chats. I had a little family chat yesterday and today. And that gives me a sense of the pulse of what’s happening in their world.

Q: What is the pulse, what are you hearing?

King: Well, I would say today is definitely better than it was last week. Parents are juggling, as Danielle said. I have my granddaughter and my mom that live with us also. So I’m balancing that, making sure that I’m helping her with her schoolwork.

Dr. Scott Rocco, superintendent of schools for the Hamilton Township School District and president of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators:

Everybody has risen to the occasion here, no matter what their title or responsibility. And that’s how we’ve made it work. It is better this week than it was last week. We were in true triage mode over the last week-and-a-half or so. And we’re beginning to find a groove of how things are working.

I have three high schools in my district, and so that poses an interesting angle when you’re working K-12. One of the things that we know is that our high school students tend to have more of an opportunity to either have a device and Wi-Fi at home or to have their own smartphone that has data where they can do a lot of the work through their phone or through a device.

That being said, when we started this a week-and-a-half ago, 83% of our students in the district were connected to a device and Wi-Fi. About the end of last week, we were 87%. By the end of yesterday, we had handed out 1,300-plus additional devices, and we are at about 98% of our students now connected on device and Wi-Fi.

Q: Can you speak to what a day’s schedule is like for high schools?

Rocco: I know across the state my colleagues have done all kinds of different things, from having a specific schedule to setting specific times. In Hamilton Township, we have told our students that our teachers will be available between 10 and 2 every day to assist. Teachers are putting up lessons, running video chats, videotaping their own lessons, and making connections to resources that are out there.

What I have found is that the teachers have made themselves available way beyond 10 to 2. Plus, the teachers are putting assignments up, so that the students can do it at their own pace. But they are answering emails all day long, all night long and responding to our students and our parents. And that’s the other nice thing, is that our teachers are responding directly to our parents.

King: That is so true on all levels. Every single person is working above and beyond. So we decided in our district to have Wednesday a “take a breath day,” just to take a moment, to take a breath and just not assign any new assignments. So much is happening that we can’t catch our breath. We want the families to not be so overwhelmed. We want the teachers not to be overwhelmed.

Students with special needs

Q: We have gotten a lot of questions from our audience about the challenges of serving students with special needs and disabilities.

King: That’s an excellent conversation to have. Personally, I am a parent of a young adult with unique abilities. You’re right. We have students who need support. That is what the behavior specialists help with and things that we have done to help a child make progress. To understand the emotional components of what they need is a regular battle. It’s not easy.

Q: Do you worry about loss of learning?

Rocco: Absolutely, every day. For all students.

King: We have parents who are learning themselves with their children. Many of the skills, some of them are not familiar with them. So it’s a learning curve for everybody, especially when they’re not used to using technology to do it. So the learning component of it is different. I know for our lower grade levels, we just decided to go to a pass-fail component for our students.

It’s not for lack of effort by the teachers. They are working hard. They are working hard to do the best that they can in the environment that we have. But think about this: We haven’t really tested a lot of it out over time. So we are just doing it now for the better part of about eight days, nine days. I would say over those nine days, there’s been a lot more success than there has been failure.

Remote report cards

Q: Will grading have to change?

Rocco: It’s a great question. Just yesterday we decided as a central administrative team to move the elementary level to a pass-fail grading system. We’re looking into a pass-fail because what you said is correct. The validity of what’s occurring regarding instruction, we really can’t assess to that because the students are in the home.

Kovach: That is still an unknown for us because all of our students are using paper work. I’ve been encouraging my parents to take a picture if they can send me their work; that way, at least maybe not for grading purposes, but I can check on their progress to see how they’re doing.

Q: How will you decide whether a child will advance? And Dr. Rocco, you have high school kids where class rankings really matter. What are the conversations happening right now around that?

Rocco: We’re having those conversations every day. We’re having it with the principals and supervisors, my directors. We’re going to try and come up with a plan that’s fair and balanced, based on what we have available.

Our teachers are grading work that the students are turning in. They’re doing project-based learning also on top of that. But we have to look at this because it has a long-term effect. It’s not just the seniors who you need a final GPA for when you determine who is Number One and who’s Number Two in the class. But it impacts all four grades, moving forward year after year after year.

Q: Are SATs and ACTs going to happen for the spring?

Rocco: Right now, the SATs and ACTs are postponed. I suspect they’ll probably run some time either end of June or the beginning of July. AP is going to happen and actually be done individually. Kids can take those. College Board has been great with the information they’ve put out. But that’s also going to be different because they’re going to take it from home. And my understanding is it’s predominantly going to be essay-based.

Best practices

Q: Are there one or two best practices that you’ve encountered in just the last couple of weeks that you’d be willing to share?

Kovach: Honestly, the best thing that I’ve found so far that has been the most effective every single day is open lines of communication with parents, especially when you work with children with special needs.

When we speak, when we talk and we communicate or they know that we are there to help them, that has what I have found to be the best help. And I think we as educators need to realize that our parents need a lot of support now. It is just not our students that need support.

Spring break

Q: Is there going to be a spring break this year?

Rocco: Yeah, that’s been one of the biggest questions that we’ve had. I think we need a break from the remote learning, it’s been so new for everybody. We will be three weeks into it. So I think we do need a break. I think that gives parents, that gives children, that gives teachers a needed break to kind of refocus, re-energize and then come back after spring break and be ready to go again.

Q: How long is this sustainable? Can we do this for the rest of the school year, which may be a reality?

Rocco: I have no doubt our teachers and administrators and everybody in the district will rise to the occasion and get it done. And I think that’s across the state and across the country. I think that can be done. We’ll just adapt. We adapt day in and day out and make it work.

King: I agree with Scott. It’s definitely a possibility. We have to do it. I believe throughout our collaborators, our collaboration with our team, with every student, parents and our families and our district stakeholders, we are prepared to do what we need to do to make it effective.

Kovach: Let’s look at it from this way. New Jersey right now is the best in the nation in education. I know that our teachers are thoroughly ready to do this, and we are fully committed to do everything we can to give our students the best education possible, no matter what circumstances we’re under.

One piece of advice

Q: As we close, one tip to educators who are watching this?

Kovach: I would have to say that we have to also take care of ourselves. This is very emotional for us. It’s getting very stressful for us. As teachers, we want to give. We want to give everything of ourselves, but we also need to think of ourselves to make sure we’re getting sleep, make sure that we’re getting some exercise, taking care of ourselves, so that we can take care of our children and our families and know that we’re doing our best.

King: Breathe and laugh. You do have to have a sense of humor. Make sure you stay connected with everybody. It’s a lot going on.

Rocco: I agree with both of them 100%. But I also want to make it very clear to everybody, just as was just said, we will get through this. We will get through this together. I think that’s an important piece we need to understand.

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Christ Hospital

Hospital Only for COVID-19 Patients Planned in Hudson County


 

Header: Photo courtesy Dr. Tucker Woods

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County Slots Homeless into Motels


Three homeless persons queued up early Tuesday morning outside a mobile trailer in Journal Square for hot showers, meals and personal hygiene kits, all courtesy of the City of Jersey City.

Where needed, they’d also get counseling and shelter related to the coronavirus that has infected the city and the rest of the globe.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, accompanied by the city’s Public Safety Director James Shea and Health & Human Services Director Stacey Flanagan, welcomed the homeless contingent outside a mobile trailer the city – through its Office of Emergency Management – is using to provide these services.

Some 50 people in Jersey City’s general population, including one homeless person, have thus far tested positive for the virus, which the World Health Organization has labeled a pandemic. Close to 200 county-wide and more than 3,600 in New Jersey are infected, according to reports.

“We have witnessed how COVID-19 has had a devastating impact around the world on all of us,” Fulop said, referring to the WHO’s name for the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “But when you think of those who have the least in society, they are even more vulnerable during this crisis. We are all pulling together to normalize our lives in this unprecedented challenge of our times, but the only way we will succeed is if we look out for those who need help the most and leave no one behind.”

To that end, the city, which the state’s January 2019 “point in time” survey listed as having 420 homeless adults and children combined, is expanding its healthcare outreach to that population from three days per week to five, Monday to Friday, 7 to 11 a.m., with a second trailer on the drawing board.

Flanagan said the city opted to locate the trailer in Journal Square (just outside the entrance to a parking garage off Magnolia Avenue) after having identified 50 homeless people congregating in that neighborhood just a short walk to the PATH Transportation Center.

Photo by Jennifer Brown/City of Jersey City

Inside the trailer, individuals can access five private shower stalls and sinks, along with what Flanagan described as “hospital-grade linens” provided by volunteer staff who, she said, would be using gloves and all required gowns and equipment to protect them from getting contaminated by the virus. Flanagan said staff members are trained to comply with federal occupational safety standards and that each shower is cleaned and disinfected after each use.

Shower users will also be offered packages of toilet paper, sanitary wipes, toothpaste, hand sanitizers and towels plus meals for anywhere from four to 14 days depending on whether they need to self-quarantine.

Hudson County also just announced a program to protect the county’s homeless population from COVID19 (albeit one aimed at older adults only). In this initiative, according to Frank Mazza, deputy director of the county’s Department of Family Services, motels along Tonnelle Avenue  will temporarily house chronically homeless persons age 60 as they have been deemed at high risk of infection given their age and living situations. The motels include Travel Lodge, Roadway Inn and Howard Johnson.

For some time, Hudson County has operated a large, dorm-like warming shelter in South Kearny every winter. The idea behind the motel program, Mazza explained, is to thin out the population at this warming shelter and at the same time protect older people and those with underlying health issues from getting sick and also from infecting others.

Mazza said the county will utilize both state block grant general assistance funds and federal block grant temporary assistance for needy families to pay motel room fees. “As it pertains to this crisis, we will provide housing until we are able to get the population safely through and then start again to work to find more prolonged housing solutions,” Mazza indicated.

Reportedly, up to 200 rooms will be available for this purpose. More information about the program is available at any of the county’s several homeless outreach centers or by calling the county’s social services unit at 201-420-3000.

Those who fear having the virus are urged to contact their health care providers or call the city hotline: 201-547-5208.

Photo by Jennifer Brown/City of Jersey City

Header: Photo by Jennifer Brown/City of Jersey City 

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COVID-19 and Whistleblower Lawsuit Dominate J.C. City Council Meeting


Members Vote, Discuss and Listen to Public Comments in Virtual Setting

Wednesday’s Jersey City City Council Meeting sputtered onto the internet in a live broadcast in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe and infected 222 Jersey City residents as of March 27. Council members, most of whom appeared to be participating from home offices, voted on resolutions and discussed two issues — Covid-19 and the case of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program whistleblower.

City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher conducts virtual council meeting
via TEAMS software.

From his city hall office, City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher ran the meeting via software that gave Jersey City residents the opportunity to watch the proceedings from the comfort of their living rooms.  The typically four-hour meeting ran under an hour with only a few Jersey City residents calling in with public comments.

“This is a special meeting of the Jersey City Municipal Council in an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols and best practices imposed by the city and state authority,” Gallagher told viewers as he started the meeting. “Sorry for any technical difficulties.”

COVID-19

Like many Jersey City residents concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, Misters Kyle Bruno and Ed Winger voiced their concerns during the public comments section of the meeting. Bruno asked the council if the city had contingency plans for people who can’t pay their rent; quarantining Jersey City from New York City (and vice versa); and what local hospitals would do if and when they reach capacity with quarantined patients.

“Is the council with the mayor’s office in any way thinking about any type of rent decrease?” Bruno asked. “Are they thinking of any quarantine or restriction of access into and out of New York City? When are local hospitals reaching capacity? Do we have any coordinated contingency plan, and how are we coordinating this plan with the state, FEMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers? I’m hoping you guys could shed some light on that.”

Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano also mentioned that the Jersey City Armory and Caven Point Military Base are available if local hospitals become overrun.

When resident Ed Winger called in, he talked of the uncertainty many local residents feel as they deal with unemployment.

“It’s challenging not knowing,” Winger said about what lies ahead. “Is the city going to do anything with the feds to support people who are on unemployment? There are a lot of services in Jersey City, our wonderful great city, but some of the city’s services to the people going through tough times are just not available.”

Councilman Boggiano said he had received calls that day about people fearing eviction.

“Sean, we’re going to have to protect people from being evicted if they can’t afford to pay their rent,” Councilman Boggiano said. “We’re going to have to do something. I’ve gotten a couple of calls on that. I’ve been speaking to people today on that issue. I hope we can come up with a solution on this.”

Gallagher told the council that, according to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court order, no evictions or foreclosures can proceed during the crisis.

Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera added that Governor Phil Murphy had just posted on the state’s website, NJ.gov, a link to services for those who lose their jobs and for employers who can’t keep employing their staff.

“We, as a city, we’re still under construction ourselves with what we’re going to do in terms with the funds that come in from the state,” Councilman Rivera said. “Actually, there are allocations where the business administrator has to be engaged along with all of us and the mayor himself.”

No Indemnification for the Jersey City Employment and Training Program

A resolution to authorize the city of Jersey City to enter into an agreement with the Jersey City Employment and Training Program came up for a vote — but not without objections from Councilman James Solomon.

Controversy has swirled around the program ever since July 2019 when employee and whistleblower Nuria Sierra’s accused the program’s then-executive director, Sudhan Thomas, of embezzlement. After filing her complaint, Sierra was fired from her job. In January 2020 Thomas, who was also head of the Jersey City Board of Education, was formally charged with bilking $45,000 from a government agency.

Councilman Solomon asked whether language could be inserted into the resolution that would protect the agency, which has no insurance, from going bankrupt if Sierra’s lawsuit goes forward. If a judge awards Sierra monetary damages, JCETP might not be able to withstand the fine and be forced to close its doors.

“As a policy question, my understanding is JCETP doesn’t have insurance for these types of claims,” Solomon said. “So, were a successful claim brought against JCETP, who would pay for it, and how would they continue their services?”

Corporate Counsel Peter Baker told Councilman Solomon that the city does not represent the JCETP and would not be indemnifying the agency.

“Why is it the law department recommendation does not indemnify JCEPT?” Councilman Solomon asked. “It’s my understanding we have done so in previous agreements similar to this one.”

Baker said he was not familiar with prior agreements. He added: “Simply put, in the present case, my responsibility and representation goes to the city and its constituent departments. If I felt it were in the city’s interest or it were necessary to indemnify another party, then we proceed with that and proceed with that thoughtfully. In the present case, and in view with the administration and business administrator, it’s our recommendation we not proceed to indemnify them for claims.”

Councilman Solomon pressed his point further, saying that the only lawsuit he’s aware of is by Sierra, and as a policy matter or statement of principal, she should be made whole.

“She clearly saw unacceptable behavior,” Councilman Solomon said. “She spoke out about it initially, quietly, not to the public and was fired, which was wrong. I think we have to take collectively, as a city, responsibility for that happening. My concern is if we proceed without indemnification, there’s no way for us to guarantee she’s made whole. If it doesn’t come out of the JCETP grant, where does it come from? JCETP doesn’t have a lot of resources. If we pass it, we end up doing wrong by her. And as a city there were clearly mistakes made, and we have to take responsibility for them.”

The Council voted 6-1 in favor of adopting the resolution with Councilman Solomon dissenting.

In attendance at the virtual meeting: Council President Joyce E. Watterman, Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Jermaine D. Robinson; and City Clerk Sean J. Gallagher. Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr. and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun did not attend.

 

The next virtual council meeting will be held Wed, April 8, at 6 pm. To view the next virtual council meeting, go to the council’s page on the city’s website and click on the link “virtual council meeting,” which can be found on the left-hand side of the page.

 

Header:  Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Councilman at Large Daniel Rivera, Council President Joyce E. Watterman, and Ward E Councilman James Solomon participate in the city council’s first virtual meeting.

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Even before Covid-19 blindsided all of us, we needed to solicit small monthly donations.  Thankfully some of you responded — but it wasn’t enough.

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If you have doubts about Jersey City Times’ value, scroll through our articles. Read Dan Levin’s Covid-19 updates. Read Sally Deering’s in-depth reports on city council and board of education meetings.  Read Tris McCall’s art reviews — and James Broderick’s book reviews.  Take a look at our events calendar.

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Art Spaces Adjust to a New Reality


Drawing Rooms was ready for spring.

The West Side gallery was set to welcome visitors to an extraordinary show: “Hands and Other Symbols,” a burst of color and imaginative design. Then came the pathogen — and with it curfews and closures.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do to move forward in the current climate,” says Anne Trauben, curator and exhibition director of Drawing Rooms (www.drawingrooms.org).

Like other arts leaders around town, Trauben is concerned about the future of the space she has created. The “Hands and Other Symbols” party at Drawing Rooms on the 14th of March may well be remembered as the last opening in Jersey City for a very long time.

The mood on March 1 — the first Jersey City Fridays of the year — had been hopeful. The gallery at Art House mounted an elegiac tribute to the late local painter Hamlet Manzueta. The SMUSH Gallery in McGinley Square allowed dancer and artist Myssi Robinson to decorate its walls with a dazzling array of sawtooth-shaped triangles. Pat Lay’s wry show, in which she teased religious symbolism out of computer processors, was still running at the new Dvora Gallery. All over town, the work on view was imaginative, provocative and playful, and there was promise of more to come.

Today, those rooms are silent. The global health crisis has emptied out the galleries and closed the doors of our creative spaces. Most of the arts institutions in Jersey City work on thin margins. Even in good times, it’s difficult to keep galleries solvent. Frozen in place and with few ways to act, local curators face an unprecedented challenge.

Some of the larger institutions have made a transition to digital-only exhibitions. MANA Contemporary (www.manacontemporary.com), for instance, has moved all of its programming to its website. Art House Productions (www.arthouseproductions.org), one of the older and more active arts organizations in Hudson County, maintains a virtual gallery, and continues to host activities and performances through its site.

“We’ve implemented some online programming which seems to be working well,” says Art House Gallery curator Andrea McKenna. “We had a ‘virtual story slam’ and Drag Bingo hosted by Harmonica Sunbeam this past Friday. We’re gearing up for another week with more programs.”

Art House attendees are accustomed to regular exhibitions, and McKenna isn’t keen on breaking that streak even if congregating is prohibited. The April show will be shown in the Art House vestibule, and the opening will be held at a later date. There’ll also be a taped component to the show that will be hosted on the organization’s website.

“My advice to my fellow artists,” says McKenna, “is to take this time to create. It’s the one that I have that truly centers me. If I’m in a good state of mind, I can properly help others who need me.”

That sort of communitarian spirit is at the heart of the SMUSH Gallery (www.smushgallery.com), but SMUSH, like most smaller Jersey City arts spaces, lacks the resources necessary to create an internet-only alternative to the brick-and-mortar McGinley Square space it calls home. For now, one of our town’s brightest lights has been dimmed.

“I’m not ambitious about replacing our in-gallery programming with online content,” says curator and owner Katelyn Halpern. “It doesn’t make sense for SMUSH to compete with organizations and companies that have really figured out how to do this.”

“Being a young, active arts organization took all our available work hours, and creating a contingency for long-term shutdown just never made the to-do list.”

For Halpern, running a gallery and performance space means physical proximity to other people — which is exactly what we’ve all been cautioned not to do. Halpern designed the space as a neighborhood hangout. With congregating discouraged, she explains, SMUSH can’t act as the facilitator of community involvement that it was created to be.

“SMUSH is about people being together with art and each other,” says Halpern, “and that’s not happening right now, so SMUSH is not really happening right now. We do plan to be back once this is over, but we’re also realistic about how unknowable the rest of the year is.”

Halpern isn’t worried about the immediate future — SMUSH just had its major fundraiser — but, like Trauben, expresses concerns about the long-term viability of the enterprise. For creators of small galleries like SMUSH, Drawing Rooms and Deep Space, the business is a labor of love: They’re here for the art first and the money only after that. Bayard, the prime mover at Eonta Space (www.eontaspacenj.com), agrees with Halpern about both the difficulty of transitioning to online presentation and a sense of mission that transcends financial considerations.

“When it comes to Eonta,” says Bayard, “money can just kiss my ass. Eonta is about art in its purest sense. We don’t charge anything, we don’t take commissions. And online is altogether too much work for too small a reward because art should be up in your face, live and in person.”

The spring Eonta show, an exhibition called “Multiply” featuring prints, marbling, and photography, has been postponed until the fall. Bayard is upstate for the duration of the crisis, and Eonta is on hold. Nevertheless, he refuses to get down, and he has some advice for Jersey City that’s commensurate with his status as a local provocateur.

“Create something beautiful, or not,” says Bayard, “but create a life that is worthy of living and that is worthy of art, and create art that is worthy of life.”

“Don’t be blue, be Yves Klein blue.”

Photo courtesy Drawing Rooms, from “Hands and Other Symbols”.

 

Header: Self-Portrait by David W. Cummings

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new jersey department of education

Just the FAQs: What the State DOE Is Telling Schools About COVID-19


The NJ Department of Education has been busy issuing guidance on numerous ways schools need to meet challenges of the coronavirus epidemic

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

As of March 27:

For New Jersey’s schools, the changes imposed by the coronavirus pandemic are looking increasingly as if they’re here for the long haul.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced yesterday that any decision about how long New Jersey’s schools will remain closed and rely on remote learning will not be made until at least April 17, a month after his initial executive order to shutter schools.

The uncertainty has left open a host of questions about how schools will proceed — questions the state Department of Education has tried to answer in ongoing guidance.

The following are excerpts from that guidance, starting with the latest additions to the department’s FAQs.

It includes guidance about the latest graduation requirements for the class of 2020 after Murphy announced this week that state testing will be suspended. About 10% of students not passing those tests still would require a “portfolio appeals” process to graduate, a process now uncertain. There are also updates for teacher candidates suddenly put on hold.

Q: How can students, who must participate in the portfolio appeals process, meet their graduation assessment requirement if schools are closed?

A: “Portfolio appeals will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. The NJDOE will extend the submission deadline of May 8, 2020, which is the district-submission deadline, to ensure the NJDOE will issue an approval in time for student participation in graduation ceremonies. The NJDOE is developing a process to electronically submit portfolio appeals and will provide additional information as soon as possible.”

“The NJDOE is encouraging districts and schools to develop a process to make Constructed Response Tasks (CRTs) available to students remotely. Some potential options include:

Post CRTs on district/school website.

Create a process and “drop box” for the electronic return to the district/school of completed CRTs.

Students without access to the internet can have CRTs mailed to them, complete them at home, and bring them for submission when school reopens.”

Q: Can I still apply for my educator certification?

A: “The online Teacher Certification Information System (TCIS) is available but with limited capacity. Candidates can complete an application, a notarized oath of allegiance and pay any fees online. The accompanying documents must still be submitted via mail to the Office of Educator Certification. There will be some delays in uploading the documents into TCIS and the NJDOE staff apologizes for this inconvenience.”

As of March 19:

The state Department of Education has been issuing guidance to New Jersey’s public schools for the past week about dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Included is a 15-page FAQ, frequently asked questions that range from the broad (what students must be served?) to the specific — addressing public meetings, for example.

The following are excerpts from the questions and answers included in the full FAQ, as well as other guidance. NJ Spotlight will update this document as more guidance is provided.

Q: How will districts ensure student attendance during the closures and the implementation of remote instruction?

A: “Any day on which all students impacted by a public health-related closure have access to home instruction services provided consistent with the guidance in this memo will count as (an instructional day) … Because such instruction is being provided, all students can be recorded as present for applicable days unless the district knowingly determines a student was not participating in any such instruction during health-related school closures.”

Q: What students must receive instruction?

A: “All students served by the district must be addressed in the plan, including students in preschool if the district has state-funded preschool and/or if the district services preschoolers with disabilities. The plans developed must include age-appropriate strategies and materials to meet the needs of all students. Districts offering preschool should remember to include contracted providers — private preschool providers and Head Start providers — in their planning activities. Each district plan must also include developmentally appropriate strategies and materials to meet the needs of all students with disabilities including those educated in out-of-district placements. Districts are encouraged to consult with the school in which the student is placed to provide continuity of instruction to the maximum extent practicable.”

Q: How might a district be able to administer home instruction remotely if families in our community do not have a device or Internet connectivity?

A: “Equitable access to learning is a critical consideration for any plan and will require that a district understands the limitations each student faces. Districts should consider collecting information on which students have access to a device, how that device is or is not shared, and what access each student has to a network. Schools and districts should take care to collect this information in a manner that avoids stigmatization of any students with varying degrees of access to technology and Internet service at home.”

“Instructional strategies should be varied and designed to meet the needs of the students. Districts should consider various solutions, such as utilizing partnerships with local community-based organizations and businesses, developing worksheets for instruction, or uploading of lessons electronically.”

“Accommodations and multiple means of conducting assignments should be considered for students with disabilities. If students with disabilities do not have access to internet connectivity to participate in remote or online home instruction, the IEP team will need to determine what compensatory instruction a student may require when their school district reopens.”

Q: How should students with disabilities, including students in special class programs, medically fragile students, students with one-to-one paraprofessionals and students receiving related services, be accommodated in the plan?

A: “Home instruction/services shall be consistent with the student’s Individualized Education Plan Program (IEP) to the most appropriate extent possible. Districts should talk to parents, who are key members of the IEP team, and help them consider how they may best ensure that students with disabilities have the necessary supports, including medical supports, in place during a public health-related school closure.”

Federal guidance on serving students with disabilities is available online.

Q: How should districts provide meals to students who receive free and reduced-price lunch during a closure?

A: “All boards of education must develop a school health-related closure-preparedness plan to provide home instruction in the event of such a closure. Each preparedness plan should address the provision of school nutrition benefits or services for eligible students.”

Q: How do COVID-19-related school closures affect statewide testing for school year 2019-2020?

A: “The NJDOE is communicating with the United States Department of Education (ED), other states in similar situations and school districts to develop guidance for long-term testing interruptions. We are currently evaluating all flexibilities and potential schedule changes and will provide guidance as school-reopening dates are confirmed.”

Federal guidance as it has been established thus far is available online.

Q: What options are available to boards of education to conduct business while minimizing the general public’s exposure during this period?

A: “School boards will likely need to hold public meetings to conduct business on various matters, such as developing a budget for the upcoming school year. In accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), public meetings may be held in person or by means of communications equipment, including streaming services and other online meeting platforms. All meetings, including those held using communications equipment, must be noticed in a manner consistent with the requirement of the OPMA, unless the meeting is for emergent circumstances and held in a manner consistent with the requirements set forth at N.J.S.A. 10:4-9(b).”

“Boards of education are reminded that they are required to provide a means of public comment even if a meeting is held remotely. Further, if a board of education currently records the audio or video of its meetings, we recommend that it continue to record a remote meeting.”

 

Header: Image courtesy New Jersey Department of Education Facebook page

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