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
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.
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.