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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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Guidance to Reopen Schools


Governor Phil Murphy and Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet announced on June 26 the release of “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education,” which provides guidance to reopen schools this fall.

The plan announces that, absent a change in public health data, public schools will open for in-person instruction and in some capacity at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Individual school districts together with community stakeholders will be expected to develop plans that best fits their own district’s needs.

The guidance sets the minimum standards for returning to school and describes several health and safety standards to be prioritized in school reopening:

  1. Social distancing: Schools and districts must allow for social distancing within the classroom. This can be achieved by ensuring students are seated at least six feet apart. If schools are not able to maintain this physical distance, additional modifications should be considered. These include physical barriers between desks and turning desks to face the same direction (rather than facing each other)or having students sit on only one side of a table and spaced apart.
  2. Face coverings: School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age. Students are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and are required to do so when social distancing cannot be maintained, unless doing so would inhibit the student’s health. It is necessary to acknowledge that enforcing the use of face coverings may be impractical for young children or certain individuals with disabilities.
  3. Limited capacity: It is recommended that students and staff be seated at least six feet apart in class when practicable. When weather allows, windows should be opened to allow for greater air circulation.
  4. Cleaning/disinfecting: Procedures must be implemented by each school district for the sanitization of school buildings and school buses. Increased hand washing measures are also important for students and staff.

These provisions are informed by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, which call for protecting staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning; providing reasonable accommodations for older adults (65 years and older) and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions; and, when possible, keeping early childhood students apart during naptime and avoiding close-group activities like reading circles.

Other provisions in the guidance include:

  1. Cafeteria directors should consider staggering meal times to allow for social distancing; discontinuing self-serve or buffet lines; having students eat meals outside or in their classrooms; and requiring staff to disinfect eating areas between groups.
  2. Recess should also be held in staggered shifts, with efforts to promote social distancing and hygiene protocols.
  3. Cohorting: Schools may wish to identify small groups of students and keep them together (cohorting) to ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible, thereby limiting exposure to large groups of students.
  4. School bus operators should encourage social distancing. CDC guidelines recommend seating on a school bus such that there is one student seated per row, skipping a row between each child, if possible. Barriers separating rows of bus seats may also be considered. If social distancing is not feasible, face coverings must be worn by students who are able to do so. Increased ventilation (i.e. opening windows) is also recommended in the guidelines.

As being able to reopen schools is dependent upon health data and informed by experts in the health field, districts will need to be prepared to switch to remote instruction at any time during the 2020-2021 school year should circumstances change. The guidance stresses that each school district should be working to ensure every student has a device and internet connectivity available, and it identifies funding streams available to school districts to ensure students have access to technology.

Districts should strive to share preliminary scheduling plans to reopen schools with staff, families, and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year in order to allow families to plan childcare and work arrangements.

Click here for a summary of the guidance.

Click here for the full guidance.

For more on the Jersey City School Board’s plans to reopen schools, please see Sally Deering’s coverage J.C. School Board prepares for September reopening.

 

Header: Dickinson High School, Jersey City Times file photo

 

 

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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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School Board Prepares Contingency Plan for Reopening Schools in Fall


New Task Force Likely to be Created to Set Guidelines

At Thursday’s Jersey City School Board meeting, trustees discussed a contingency plan for reopening schools in the fall. If Governor Phil Murphy orders schools to reopen in September, School Superintendent Franklin Walker and members of the board agreed that now’s the time to create a Covid-19 task force to oversee the details.

Trustees offered input on the steps necessary for reopening schools. Superintendent Walker emphasized safety as a main priority, thereby creating a Covid-free environment for teachers, students and administrators. Regularly disinfecting schools, testing students for coronavirus symptoms and enforcing social distancing and face mask restrictions are just some of the items on the school board’s to-do list.

“At this time, we don’t have any specifics on the re-entry of schools,” Superintendent Walker said. “If we go back, we’re not going to go back until September, if we’re lucky. The pandemic has changed how we do everything. As we await the governor’s announcement that New Jersey will reopen, we must be patient and help students succeed in the remainder of the school year.”

Superintendent Walker reassured parents watching the virtual meeting that prior to the reopening of schools, there will be transparency to “make them fully aware of what’s involved in the re-opening.”

Schools’ Covid-19 Task Force 

Superintendent Walker and the board discussed the need to assemble a Covid-19 task force of board members, teachers and parents to outline and orchestrate the reopening of Jersey City’s schools and the re-entry of its 30,000 students.

“Do we have children wear masks, do we reduce the number of children in each class for social distancing, do we incorporate the Copenhagen structure where some students go in the morning, some go in the afternoon?” Walker said. “We have to have a task force to come together and identify a structure and a process for when we bring students back. As long as the executive order is in place it gives us flexibility to customize our district to the safety and welfare of our students. Right now, before we decide we’re opening schools back up after the governor gives us the okay, we have to fine tune the details.”

Trustee Gerald Lyons and Vice President Gina Verdibello voiced concern about face masks for staff and children.

“Masks for children are a lot smaller,” Vice President Verdibello said. “If they do go back to school and wear a mask, that has to be considered. Let’s hope they fit right and get provided for free for every child when they come in.”

Superintendent Walker discussed temperature screenings to detect Covid-19 on a call with Mayor Steven Fulop and the Office of Emergency Management and Stacey Flanagan, director of Jersey City’s Health and Human Services Department, he said. Superintendent Walker said there’s a need for partnering with the city to help defray certain costs, like testing students for Covid-19 at a cost of 50 cents per test.

“The question came up, ‘Who is going to pay for the test?’” Walker said. “Who is going to pay for 30,000 students? We can test the students today, and tomorrow it can be a different situation. We don’t have the finances to support that, but as a city, based on stimulus and other monies available, there may be monies for that.”

It was announced in April, that New Jersey will receive $3.5 billion from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (aka the CARES Act) funding which was signed into law on March 27. Jersey City Schools will get a portion of Jersey City’s allotment.

“I am upset at our City Fathers talking about how we are going to afford testing,” Trustee Marilyn Roman said. “This district has done a great job. We’ve done all we can to keep the children alive and healthy. This is important. You have to do it. It’s important to keep our kids safe no matter how much it costs.”

During the public comments section of the meeting, Jersey City resident Mary Cruz called in with concerns about cleaning the schools.

“People are talking about opening the schools,” Cruz addressed the board by phone. “Using the cleaning supplies that the Board of Ed buys for custodians does not satisfy the place being clean. We need to sanitize the toys used by the children in Pre-K. We can’t take any chances. Who’s going to clean those children’s toys?”

Superintendent Walker addressed Cruz’s concerns about school cleanliness. He said that prior to reopening, the Board of Education will perform a comprehensive cleaning of all the schools.

“Because of the circumstance of the health crisis we’re in, the process will be much greater, and it could require additional professional services to support that,” Walker said. “We are in the planning stage. We’re cautiously planning. We want strong support from state and city on what we do preparing students to enter the building. Our position is to keep everything in line as this whole process evolves.”

A Two-Day School Week

Trustee Alexander Hamilton thanked Superintendent Walker for keeping a sense of unity in the school district during the pandemic. He also voiced his support for students having a two-day school week.

“Some kids go Monday and Wednesday, other kids go Tuesday and Friday, and one day they clean the school,” Hamilton said. “That’s what my son misses the most, to see his teachers and his classmates. I would love to work with you on something like that. Let’s make sure we can use the foundation you created and come up with a plan that the children still have touch points with their teachers.”

Trustees Noemi Velasquez and Marilyn Roman brought up their concern about sanitizing the schools and how regular cleaning doesn’t offer enough security for the teachers. Roman said regular testing for Covid-19 needs to be put in place for the teachers and everyone else to feel safe in the schools.

“Everything has to do with testing,” Roman said. “Why would we send these teachers back to schools knowing they might be sick or asymptomatic? Doesn’t there have to be a testing process? As a teacher, I would not be comfortable unless I knew everybody was well. Maybe our department of health can help us? We need to start right away. It takes a long time to get those testing kits.”

President Richardson and the trustees adjourned the public portion of the meeting and went into private session for further discussion. Before signing off, Superintendent Walker expressed to the parents and the board watching the virtual meeting that living through these tough days, it’s important to never lose hope.

“Those of us who can dream, must dream,” Walker added. “I dream next school year we can meet the academic, health and social needs of all of our students.”

In Other News

On Monday, Governor Phil Murphy announced that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, New Jersey schools will stay closed the rest of the term.

“All schools will remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year — to protect the health of our children, our educators and their families,” Governor Murphy announced on Twitter. “Guided by safety and science, this is the best course of action.”

Referendum Pulled

Mayor Steve Fulop and the Jersey City Council announced on Monday that the council will vote on a resolution at the May 6 council meeting to withdraw a referendum for voters to decide in November’s general election if the Board of Education should move to an appointed board.

“The world is a very different place today than it was in January when we approved the referendum,” Mayor Fulop said. “We still have major concerns with the Board of Education’s decision to raise taxes on residents during the pandemic, but the reality is we don’t want to be more disruptive to the schools when they return in September after being closed for months.”

Next Budget Meeting

The Jersey City Public Schools will hold its 2020-2021 budget adoption meeting virtually on Wed., May 13, beginning 6 p.m.

The meeting may be viewed live at https://www.facebook.com/TheSchoolDistrictOfJerseyCity.

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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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School Board Approves $736 Million Budget Proposal Representing a 47% Increase in the School Tax Levy


Final Budget for FY 2020-2021 Still Weeks Away
Board to Use Time for More Discussion and Public Input

At Friday’s special meeting of the Jersey City School Board parents praised Superintendent Franklin Walker’s proposed $736 million school budget for FY 2020-2021 and urged board members to approve it. If approved, it would increase the school tax levy (the part of assessed property taxes allocated to the public schools) $64 million, bringing the levy to $201 million.

Facing a midnight deadline to send an approval of the $736 million budget to Interim Executive County Superintendent Melissa Pearce, the board gathered at its Claremont Avenue headquarters to discuss the proposed budget. Eight of the nine board members supported the budget, but several members voiced concern that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with schools closed until further notice, an increased tax levy would burden homeowners at a time when many people are losing or getting laid off from their jobs. Superintendent Walker acknowledged these are tough times, but said children must come first.

Superintendent Franklin Walker, photo by Sally Deering

“I’m asking the board to invest in our children from the highest achiever to the most vulnerable,” Superintendent Walker said. “We are navigating difficult times, but our children are worth the sacrifice. If you think the cost to educate children of today is expensive, the cost not to educate them is much higher and has much greater consequence.”

Trustee Alexander Hamilton said he would like to postpone the vote during these uncertain times.

“I understand we want to pass this budget,” Trustee Hamilton said, “but I need to know what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the city. I’m asking for this to be pushed back 30–60 days. I don’t care about the county. I care that the process is done right, and we make the proper assessment to get this done.”

Hamilton made a motion to postpone the vote, but no one seconded it.

Superintendent Walker’s budget includes the continuation of all existing programs and services, funding for ESL, a STEAM Academy, additional social workers and high school counselors, a mental health specialist and psychologist. The budget also calls for no teacher or staff layoffs or dismissals. Many of these concerns were brought up by parents in previous board meetings, and it seems Superintendent Walker listened.

Brigid D’Souza, a leader with Jersey City Together and a mother of two students at P.S. 3, said in response to the proposed school budget: “The initial budget from Superintendent Walker is both courageous and reasonable. It takes seriously the needs of Jersey City’s students and particularly its students who have the most needs. We hope the board does the right thing tonight and passes it, so they can begin more detailed discussions over the next two months.”

The school budget includes a $64 million school levy increase, which represents a 47% increase over last year’s school tax levy, but should not be mistaken for a 47% increase in property tax, which is made up of municipal, county and school taxes. The 2019-2020 school levy was $137 million. The 47% increase of $64 million will bring the school levy up to $201 million.

But the 2020-2021school budget still has a shortfall, Trustee Mussab Ali said.

Trustee Mussab Ali, photo by Sally Deering

“I think we need to recognize this is not a fully-funded budget,” Trustee Ali said. “Our schools last year were underfunded by $155 million. This year, despite the tax increase that we have, we would still be underfunded by $80 million based on the state formula of what is adequacy. That means last year we were underfunded by $5,000 per pupil. A student in our district was getting $5,000 less than what the state thinks is a thorough and efficient education. Even after our budget today, a student in our district will be getting $2,600 less than what the state thinks is a thorough and efficient education.”

Trustee Mussab Ali also wanted to clarify that the meeting that night was for the adoption of the budget, not a vote on the final budget.

“It doesn’t mean that today is the last day of the budget process,” Trustee Ali said. “It doesn’t mean this is the final version of the budget. We still will be getting public input and will be working on the budget over the course of the next six weeks. After that, we will vote to adopt a final budget.”

Parents called in during the public comments section of the meeting to voice their opinions. Scott Welfel, the father of a first-grade student said: “When we saw Superintendent Walker’s proposal,  we were thrilled. This is the type of leadership we need. We saw the mayor’s response. We think (it) was alarmist in an unsubstantiated way.”

Werfel was talking about Mayor Steven Fulop’s dismissal of the $736 million budget as “really irresponsible” as reported on NJ.com. The Mayor’s school budget plan had proposed $45 million in cuts and a $25 million yearly increase to the school tax levy over the next three years. The school board did not adopt any of those measures in its proposed budget.

“They’re going to destroy the taxpayers,” Mayor Fulop said. “They’re going to destroy residents, both renters and homeowners. People are struggling, and it’s not going to get easier for a couple of months.”

Superintendent Franklin Walker doesn’t think the mayor sees the big picture. He said the budget that’s being presented is part of the district’s strategic plan that prepares students for college and for jobs that have not even been created yet. Walker said that it’s the board’s responsibility to ensure students are academically competitive now and in the future. It’s called “future proofing,” he said.

“The strategic plan drives our budget,” Superintendent Walker said. “We’ve seen a significant decrease in the funding of millions of dollars over the last few years. This year, we have an increased allocation for our charter schools of $13 million. The cost of operating continues to increase. Last year, we had to lay off 400 teachers to submit a balanced budget. Our students deserve the best qualified teachers. In order to make Jersey City more desirable and continue to expand, we need all of our students and all of our schools to be successful.”

Making the midnight deadline, the board approved the school budget 8-1 with Trustee Alexander Hamilton the sole dissenter. School Business Administrator Regina Robinson said it would proceed to the county for approval if it covers all the guidelines. Assuming Hudson County approves it, the board would then have between April 24 and May 7 to adopt the budget before it went to the state for approval. During that window of time, there would be a public hearing for Jersey City residents and additional discussions by the board.

School Board President Lorenzo Richardson presided over the meeting with Trustees Mussab Ali, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Lyons, Lekendrick Shaw and Noemi Velazquez in attendance, and Marilyn Roman, Gina Verdibello and Joan Terrell-Paige on speakerphone.

 

The School Board Caucus Meeting is scheduled for Mon, March 23 at 6 pm. It will not be open to the public, but may be viewed live on Facebook.com.

Header: Jersey City Board of Education special meeting on March 20, photo by Sally Deering

 

 

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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 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

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: Jersey City Times file photo

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Jersey City Schools Planning for Spread of COVID-19 Virus, An Emergency Early 12:30 p.m. Dismissal is Scheduled for Students this Wednesday, March 11, 2020


In a letter to parents and posted the on the district’s website, the Jersey City Public School District said that it is preparing for the possibility that a spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. may impact school attendance, and/or require the closure of schools. The district is planning to provide a combination of educational packets and electronic learning opportunities in the event the New Jersey Department of Health or the Jersey City Department of Health recommends school closures. If it becomes necessary to close, information will be shared through their communication system Blackboard Connect, the district’s website at https://www.jcboe.org/, Facebook, Twitter, the district’s cable channel JCETV. Please make sure your child’s school has your current telephone number and email address.

The district states that perhaps the most important measures that everyone can take are the everyday actions used to prevent the spread of any respiratory disease.

These include the following:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Keep your children home when they are sick. (Children should not return to school unless they have been fever-free without medication for 24 hours.)

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

• If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty. For information about hand-washing, see the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Hand-washing website: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html

With regard to the continuation of instruction and providing learning opportunities for students in event of the closure of schools, the district is currently developing a full contingency plan. There will be an early, 12:30 p.m. dismissal for students only this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 to initiate plans and coordinate with staff for satellite learning options.

 

Header:  Jersey City Times file photo by David Wilson

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JC School Board Holds Public Meeting on 2020-2021 Budget


Parents and Educators Implore the Board to Put Children First

Hillary Clinton wrote, “It Takes a Village” to raise a child. In the case of Jersey City’s public-school children, it takes a budget that will address their needs, from counseling to a decent breakfast.

A small yet impassioned group of parents and teachers spoke at the school board’s public meeting held at the Jersey City Board of Education’s (BOE) Claremont Avenue office Thursday night. They were there to give the nine-member board their input as it prepares the 2020-2021 school budget. The first draft goes to the county’s superintendent of schools on March 20, and the budget must be passed by May 14.

The Thursday night meeting in the Dr. Emery Konick, Jr. Conference Center took place two days after Mayor Seven Fulop and Ward D Councilman Michael Yun held a press conference outlining a $250 million school-funding plan to fill the BOEs $120 million budget gap. Fulop and Yun proposed a three-year commitment to transfer $40 million over from tax abatements to the BOE.  Their plan would also include spending cuts on firefighter and police recruitment, a pay freeze for select staff, limits on overtime pay and a school tax levy. School taxes are part of a homeowner’s property tax.

Board President Lorenzo Richardson spoke briefly about the mayor’s press conference, saying that he sent the mayor an email the morning of the press conference “providing directives as to what the needs of the schools are in terms of funding from the city.” In the email, President Richardson requested that the city fulfill its commitment to cover the state’s funding cut, which is projected to be $72 million (previously believed to be less than $55 million).

“At this time, we are dealing with funding issues related to state cuts,” President Lorenzo said at the start of the public forum.

Parent Nancy Pokler address the School Board.  Photo by Sally Deering

The board president then opened the public meeting to the small group of parents and educators who came to talk. Jersey City resident and P.S. 5 parent Nancy Pokler talked about the loss of 200 public school positions including 160 teachers, 25 assistants and aides, 20 janitorial, security and food service staff, and 15 administrator and supervisor positions. She spoke of the state’s SFRA (School Funding Reform Act) formula of 2008, used to determine how much each school district receives in funding.

“The SFRA shows that Jersey City can and should be funding its own schools,” Pokler said. “Jersey City has the largest tax base in the entire state and shockingly one of the lowest school tax rates, ranking 532 out of the 565 municipalities.”

Jyl Josephson, parent of a P.S. 26 fifth grader, said that she didn’t want to talk about the numbers. Instead she wanted to talk about Jersey City’s schoolchildren. Josephson told the board that in the past she attended many public-school board meetings where parents made demands about what they wanted without ever mentioning their children’s needs. Josephson said she hoped the board would focus on the children above all else.

“As you begin to make the many difficult and important decisions that you’ll be making over the next few months, I want you to start right now by thinking about children, children that are your primary constituents,” Josephson said. “Our schools have the task of identifying and finding our children’s talents, seeing their beauty and potential, helping them correct their mistakes and do better next time so they can become adults who live together and take care of each other in this beautiful and vibrant democracy. I hope that throughout this process, you will take a moment and imagine the kids and put those kids first.”

School Nurse at P.S. 6 in Jersey City for 18 years, Jackie Matthews asked the board to hire mental health counselors for children who are suffering from extreme anxiety and parental neglect. She said many of the children who are general education students come to school tired, hungry, and filled with anxiety. These children need counseling, she said.

“The children with IEPs get counseling from the social worker, from the school psychologist,  that’s part of their IEP,” Matthews said. “I’m talking about the general ed students who come to school tired, who come to school in the same clothes, who come to school unable to learn because they’re hungry. They’re anxious children who are empty vessels who I fill up one day and who come back the next day empty again.”

Prof. Jyl Josephson

After all the speakers addressed the board, Superintendent Walker thanked them for expressing their concerns about the students. He said the board will focus on restoring “appropriate staff and services to meet the educational needs of the students.”

President Richardson then closed the meeting with a promise to address the issues brought up by the parents and educators. He said, “We will be keeping all your comments in mind and make sure we do everything we can to make sure this budget respects every student in this district.”

President Richardson also said there will be more public meetings scheduled before the March 20 deadline.

Board members in attendance: Superintendent Franklin Walker, President Lorenzo Richardson, Vice President Gina Verdibello, Alexander Hamilton, Gerald Lyons, Marilyn Roman, Lekendrick Shaw, Joan Terrell-Paige, Noemi Velazquez, and School Business Administrator/Board Secretary Regina Robinson.

 

Next Regular Meeting of the School Board
Thurs, Feb. 27, 6 p.m.
P.S. 41 (Fred W. Martin Center for the Arts)
59 Wilkinson Ave, Jersey City
For more info: jcboe.org

 

Header: School board holds special meeting for input on 2020-2021 budget.  Photo by Sally Deering

 

 

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20191012_125039

Officials Promise an End to School Water Fountain Saga


15 Jersey City public schools and facilities were set to have their water fountains lead free and operating by November, but they remain shut off. Now these fountains—plus those in 25 of the district’s other schools that had been inactivated due to threats from lead—are scheduled to be back on by March 1.

“This past November, the district had a press release saying that the fountains will be opened in 30 days, but I went back to McNair in December over break, and there was no progress being made,” said Harshal Rajesh Agrawal, a recent McNair high school graduate and local activist on the issue.

Agrawal questions why the repairs took so long.

“Given common sense and my limited technical understanding of the situation, I would think the fountains at McNair should’ve been opened a few months ago. The filters were installed and tested and the results came back clean.”

It turns out that Agrawal’s assessment was correct.

“The water pipes coming into McNair were all resolved a while ago, and there was no work required by the JCMUA,” said Hudson County Freeholder Joel Torres in an email.

“The reason for the delay was that there were fountains in other schools that still needed to be reviewed to make sure they were fully remediated. The superintendent didn’t want to do a piecemeal type of process and wanted to turn on the fountains in every school at the same time. Therefore, they’re finalizing this review to turn them on this month,” Torres added.

The city has spent $1,800,000 on bottled water since lead was first detected in the schools in 2006, and the board has not said how much more these remaining repairs and related purchases will wind up costing.

“It could be as low as $4-$5 million. It could be as high as $15 million,” said former Board President Sudhan Thomas in November 2019.

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