A Democratic state senator is calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to reverse his decision and require all New Jersey schools to hold classes only through remote learning until its completely safe to reopen.
“If it’s unsafe to have indoor dining it’s unsafe to have schools open,” said State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham). “The decision to open schools holds people’s lives in the balance — it must be done safely or not at all.”
Murphy announced earlier this week that schools would be allowed to operate remotely during the coronavirus pandemic only after demonstrating an inability to meet state guidelines for in—person learning. Murphy had previously indicated that he wanted in-person classes.
The governor said he would leave the final decision up to local school boards.
“Everyone agrees that in-person learning is the ultimate goal but without clear quantifiable guidelines or time to collect the proper supplies, to put students in the classroom in September would not be responsible,” Addiego said in a letter to Murphy dated for next Monday obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
Addiego wants Murphy to show data and a proper level of preparedness to assure parents and educators that it is safe to return to a traditional learning environment.
“We have nothing open that requires being inside for an extended period of time, no movie theaters, no gyms, not even indoor dining,” the four-term senator said. “It’s inconceivable that we would have our students and teachers be the guinea pigs for extended indoor exposure.”
The Burlington County Democrat pointed to what happened in Georgia, where some schools were shut down after less than a week after reopening for in-person learning.
In one Georgia county, more than 1,600 students and staff were in quarantine after a dramatic increase in positive cases of COVID-19 and one 15-year-old with no underlying symptoms died.
“I do not want New Jersey to be a second Georgia,” said Addiego. “I fear that one sick student or one sick teacher could erase everything we have been working towards these past six months.”
Addiego said that parents, teachers and school staff “need to know that they are in a safe, controlled and comfortable environment when they return to the classroom.”
“For anyone following the frantic and chaotic situation unfolding statewide, it is clear that the whole process needs to slow down, and districts need more time to prepare,” Addiego stated. “Opening too soon endangers everyone and only stands to further delay the process.”
Addiego told Murphy that the second wave of the deadly coronavirus predicted by Dr. Anthony Fauci makes it “dangerously irresponsible to allow school to start in September.”
“The widespread confusion and the rapid approach of Labor Day has created an environment that is ripe for mistakes, missteps and mistrust,” she said.
The president of the New Jersey Education Association, Marie Blistan, and two other top state education advocates, had asked Murphy to make a statewide decision and opposed a plan to allow the decision to reopen to be made at the local level.