Schools Leaders Elaborate on September Reopening

June 25 School Board Meeting Also Dedicated to Budget, Moore School, Racial Equity

Jersey City Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker said that the city’s board of education is on track to deliver a balanced budget for SY2020-21 while it prepares for a September reopening of schools under state guidelines. School closings due to Covid-19 and a school year-end shortfall of $125 million were obstacles Jersey City’s Board of Education faced in the 2019-20 school year.

“We plan to start school in September with in-person instruction,” Superintendent Walker said. “There is a committee that is responsible for the re-opening. Dr. Norma Fernandez [Deputy Superintendent] is spearheading that. We have 30,000+ students. The charter, parochial, and private schools are waiting for us to make decisions. We want to coordinate services with the other schools. We know we have an impact on those schools, too, so we have to be careful so that it will be for everyone.”

State guidelines for September reopening unveiled by Governor Murphy’s office on June 26 will also contribute significantly to Jersey City’s local plans.

The Jersey City Board of Education started the 2019-20 school year with a $120 million budget shortfall, according to Superintendent Walker, but through efficiencies and the payroll tax it is on track to deliver a balanced budget, he said.

September Reopening Plans

Superintendent Walker outlined three September reopening plans based on varying risks the pandemic may present at the time. The least restrictive plan features enhanced safety precautions, social distancing, considerable reliance on hand sanitizers and masks, and increased cleaning of heavily trafficked areas. A second plan based on a higher public health risk, focuses on distance learning with face-to-face instruction and reduced class sizes; the third and most restrictive plan includes full-distance learning wherein  all students participate in lessons that meet the standards with pacing, interactive experiences, graded assignments, and assessments.

“Remote (learning) is here to stay,” Walker said. “We are going to fine-tune that to get the best out of our teaching and learning for our students.”

In any and all cases, Jersey City will take its cues for September reopening from the state and the Centers for Disease Control.

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker

“We’ll have to redesign the (schools) for social distancing,” the superintendent said. “I don’t have the expertise for that. We’re in the process of [contracting with] a company that has done this in other places and will look at our environment and develop a plan that supports the social distancing structure. We have identified needs regarding masks, cleaning supplies. We have training that’s coming in so custodians will be trained how to clean. It’s a different day. Another goal is to hire additional custodians. We need to have a cleaning schedule, a bathroom schedule where people are cleaning on a regular basis and document these things are taking place. It takes a different kind of mindset to support those situations. As soon as we receive guidance [from the state], we will proceed with our plans.”

Grants and Partnerships

Superintendent Franklin gave an update on progress the JCBOE has made, raising close to $10 million for the schools through grants. He said a dual educational component with local colleges and universities along with professional development for new administrators will also be implemented this fall.

In the 2019-20 school year, the board of education established a grants department where approximately 116 grants, which included five-year grants, formula grants, and charitable donations, have raised $5.6 million for the schools. Eight grants that bring in an additional $4.6 million are still pending.

For SY2020-21, the JCBOE has formed partnerships with St. Peter’s University, New Jersey City University, and Hudson County Community College for dual education at high schools. It will use Title I funding to hire instructional specialists to provide professional development to teachers in the district, and the board has joined the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline to support new and aspiring administrators.

Parents Talk

During the virtual meeting, trustees heard from 17 residents who called in — mostly parents concerned about sending their children to school while the Covid-19 pandemic is still a threat. Nancy Pokier, whose child attends P.S. 5, said she wanted better communication from the school board on its plans to reopen schools.

“I would like more information, details, and updates on how these plans will be implemented,” Pokier said. “What is the plan for a safe school environment? What is the plan if a child or teacher tests positive for Covid-19? Will all schools have a full-time nurse, enough custodians? Come September, schools will need adequate custodial staff. What is the plan if schools don’t open, and we have to resume remote learning? What will be required of students for at-home learning? How will kids who fall behind be lifted up to success? As a parent, I need to know the process and the details. We can’t wait until late August. I urge you to show us the wheels are in motion, so we are prepared to provide a thorough education to all of our kids.”

Denise Smith, a parent of two Jersey City public school students, thanked her children’s teachers for their hard work. She said they have been doing well with remote learning, and the teachers have been reaching out to the students.

“I wanted to say something positive about the teachers in the district,” Smith said.

The youngest caller was Barbara Ioffe, a grade five student from P.S. 16. She stressed how important it is to her to get back to school in September and that she especially misses her classmates.

“I’m the kind of kid who loves going to school,” Ioffe said. “I understand the importance of the school closing, but please let us return. I’ve been in this school for a very long time. Please let us know as soon as you can.”

Maritza Ortiz, a parent of a student in special education classes at P.S.28, said she was concerned there were no field trips or after school programs for children in special ed classes.

“My son has never been on a field trip with his class, and he has no behavioral issues,” Ortiz said. “Special ed kids need resources and more help. They need after school tutoring.

A. Harry Moore School Restored

A. Harry Moore School

In February, a portico collapsed at A. Harry Moore School, forcing students, faculty and administrators to relocate to temporary quarters at Regional Day School.

“After countless hours of work, our students at the A. Harry Moore School will be back in their newly remodeled building,” Superintendent Walker said, “and we have reached an agreement with NJCU to keep them there.”

“There was a parent who called in about special education and after school programs,” Trustee Alexander Hamilton said. “We had talked about this in our committee meeting to make sure something happens for special ed students after school. We are looking at that.”

Trustee Gerald Lyons suggested a committee should be assembled to address hate speech and racism.

“I can’t believe that’s taking place in Jersey City, one of the most diverse cities in the nation,” Lyons said. “Even on the posts, the inappropriate language, people are saying things … you just don’t say things like that. It shouldn’t be.”

Addressing Systemic Racism

School Board president Lorenzo Richardson closed the public portion of the school board meeting by addressing systemic racism. He said he has planned a training program for board members to better understand systemic racism so they may affect change.

“We must dismantle the systems of racism that divide us and come together as a village and support one another,” Richardson said. “I have already spoken to the board, and I am scheduling this board to have equity and unbiased training where we can learn more how we can affect change. We will also do an equity audit to take a comprehensive look at our policies to ensure they are fair, just, and do not support systemic racism. We must unite, or racism will destroy us all. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’”

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J.C. School Board Prepares for September Reopening

A week after voting to adopt a $736 million budget for the 2020-2021 school year, the Jersey City Public Schools met to discuss preparations for the September reopening of the district’s 39 schools. Since schools closed March 16, teachers have been instructing students via the internet. They’ll continue doing so until Governor Phil Murphy authorizes schools to reopen.

At Thursday’s virtual meeting, the board’s nine trustees addressed special education classes’ returning to A. Harry More School and bringing in professional cleaning services to help district custodians get the schools ready for the fall. In addition, Superintendent Franklin Walker announced that due to Covid-19 restrictions, all June graduation ceremonies will be held virtually.

Students With Special Needs

Jersey City parent Barbara Hildner opened the public comments portion of the meeting to say she was concerned about  students with disabilities’ moving back to A. Harry Moore School. Last year, the students were relocated to Gerald R. Dynes Regional day school when a portico at A. Harry Moore School collapsed, halting classes until repairs were made. Once A. Harry Moore School reopens, only two of its five floors will be used for classroom instruction, Hildner said, crowding students into already cramped classrooms. There also seems to be an issue with meals for students on special diets: They aren’t getting them.

“Everybody agrees that the school cannot be successfully housed at Regional day (school), and there’s a plan to bring A. Harry Moore back to its original building, but the problems will move to A. Harry Moore if it’s relocated to just two floors,” Hildner said. “The plan is to have the same food service that provides meals throughout the Jersey City school system provide meals for A. Harry Moore students, (but) they are unable to accommodate any of the students who have dietary needs. That’s a problem that’s moving from Regional day to A. Harry Moore.”

Superintendent Walker responded by saying that A. Harry Moore School had been fully evaluated and cleared to reopen in September:

“We set up a timeline and currently that timeline is in place. We are on pace to develop a structure to provide full services and be fully functional to students at A. Harry Moore. As we move through this process, we are still tweaking some of our plans to make it the best circumstance for A. Harry Moore students.”

Vice President Gina Verdibello asked that the plan for A. Harry More School be made available to the board for review, and Superintendent Walker assured the board he would send them each a copy.

Cleaning Schools A-Z

Bayonne resident Mary Cruz called in to share her concern about mold and fungus growing in the closed school buildings. She recommended hiring a professional cleaning service so that all buildings are safe for children and staff. Cruz said: “Mold is the result of the air conditioning system being shut down since March. Take this time to bring in professionals to work with our custodial staff to clean each building to prevent students and staff from becoming ill.”

Every year a plan is put in place to ensure the entire school district’s buildings are clean, sanitary, and healthy for anyone who enters, Superintendent Walker said. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, every building will be thoroughly cleaned before the September reopening.

“Our top priority is the health and welfare of our students,” Superintendent Walker said. “That’s not something were going to take for granted. We have a custodial stuff in place for when school reopens. We also want to make available a (professional) cleaning service. As we did in the past, we will have air quality control measures that are taken where we test air quality. Some places we even test the walls, take chips from the walls to make sure they’re safe.”

Board trustee Gerald Lyons addressed custodial concerns. School custodians who have been cleaning the buildings told him they wanted Superintendent Walker and the board to know that when they do come up with a cleaning plan, if additional services are needed, the custodial staff is both trained and willing to do what’s necessary.

Bridging the Divide with Remote Learning

During the pandemic, teachers have been teaching remotely with the help of guidelines and tips from the state board of education. While this has allowed classes to continue uninterrupted, it has exposed serious inequities within the district’s student population and a significant conceptual flaw : Not all families in Jersey City have computers and internet access at home; therefore not all children could immediately or easily participate.

“Remote learning will never take the place of in-person instruction, but there are things we can do that are beneficial to the learning process that support remote learning,” Superintendent Walker said, referring to the board of education’s recent distribution of 3,500 Chromebooks (laptops) to students in Grades 3 to 12.

School Schedule for 2020-2021

Jersey City School Board Virtual Meeting Thursday, May 21, 2020

Schools will not be open in the summer, Superintendent Walker said. There will be an enrichment program for students and professional development programs for teachers. Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez announced that teachers would return to school on September 8 and students on September 10. The last day of the 2020-2021 school year will be June 25.

Virtual Graduations

 All commencement celebrations in Jersey City public schools will be virtual, Superintendent Walker said. To celebrate Jersey City’s graduating students, the Loew’s theater in Journal Square will honor them on its marquee.

Superintendent Walker advised parents, teachers and school board members to be patient as the board of education makes preparations to reopen the schools.

“We need to be a little patient to help students to succeed and prepare for September,” Superintendent Walker said. “We have committees in place for the closing and reopening, (and) we are all meeting and exchanging ideas, but the pandemic has changed everything. As soon as we receive the guidelines (to reopen) I will make them available to the public.”

The next virtual school board meeting will be held Thurs, June 25 at 6 p.m.

For previous reporting on A. Harry Moore school, click here.

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Education: “We Want to Go Home!”

Despite months of back-and-forth discussion regarding the future of Jersey City’s A. Harry Moore Laboratory School, located at 2078 JFK Blvd. opposite New Jersey City University, a long-term solution to the school’s shuttering remains up in the air.

During the Board Of Education’s meeting November 1, A. Harry Moore School was discussed with parents, teachers, and administrators giving their opinions regarding the Jersey City school whose entire operation was recently relocated to Regional Day School after its ceiling partially collapsed in September.

“We are, right now, in a very challenging setting,” Patricia Holzman, teacher at A. Harry Moore school said, referring to the lack of space for their student population at Regional Day School.

“We want to go home,” pleaded A. Harry Moore’s principal, Steven Goldberg, to the BOE.

The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School has been a learning institute for children and adults with physical disabilities ages 3 through 21 since 1931. The school offers an “employment opportunities workshop” an “adapted” physical education program, and a preschool while also offering physical, occupational, speech, and music therapies. Although operated under the College of Education of New Jersey City University, it is funded by the board of education.

In early September, A. Harry Moore’s roof partially collapsed, but before repairs could begin, further inspections deemed the whole building unsafe for students to return, leaving the school’s future  uncertain. Board President Sudhan Thomas stated the school will remain under the Regional Day School until a better solution comes along, declaring they are searching for a fully utilized space for the school to accommodate staff, students, and the equipment the school will require.

Thomas had disclosed four possible options for the future of the school: refurbishing the entire facility, which may cost up to $25 million and take about five years to complete, purchasing a new building altogether, keeping the program at Regional Day School, or renting a space within New Jersey City University.

“We have collectively, with NJCU, decided that that program will continue at Regional Day School for the interim until we find a proper solution,” he added.

In recent months, there was some speculation regarding NJCU’s discontinuing the program and the Jersey City Public School district’s taking over. Superintendent Franklin Walker addressed this rumor at the BOE meeting. “It’s never been our intention to take over the A. Harry Moore program,” he said. “It’s A. Harry Moore Laboratory School that’s been sponsored by New Jersey City University as a part of their college education program.” Walker went on to say they are still viewed as district students and will be provided for.

Both Goldberg and Holzman explained why providing adequate space is of the utmost importance for these students. “This is not only an academic and therapeutic setting for many of these medically fragile students; this is their lives.”

Thomas addressed the situation by announcing the BOE will be creating an ad hoc committee following the board meeting, which will consist of two board members, a couple of A. Harry Moore parents, and appointees from the board and NJCU’s side and that will meet monthly to devise a solution for the school’s permanent — or possibly temporary — location.

Regional Day School is located almost two miles away from the original site of A. Harry Moore School and is home to about 100 students of its own.

Goldberg urged the board to understand the urgency of the situation, explaining the students thrive in this program. “That’s what happens at A. Harry Moore. They live.”

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