On June 26, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Education released “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education”. This 104-page document outlines the guidance the department suggests districts follow when they reopen school buildings in September. Educators recognize that opening buildings for in-person learning is vital, but public health must take precedence. Educators and other staff members who interact closely with students have been left with questions and concerns after reading the guidance from the state.
Inspired by David M. Aderhold and the Garden State Coalition of Schools’ “283 Questions about School Reopening”, this document is a crowd-sourced list of questions and concerns NJ school staff believe must be answered in order to ensure the safety of educators and students. While we recognize that administrators are dealing with a myriad of issues, they are not the ones who will interact with dozens to hundreds of students each day, often in schools with no air conditioning, poor ventilation, and more. All of these questions come from school staff who interact with students on a daily basis- teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, and other staff with constant student contact. We hope that the NJDOE and Governor Murphy will rethink the plan to allow local districts to make decisions and will instead create a statewide plan (as they have for all other Covid-19 related issues). There is no reason districts should be left to answer these questions individually.
Contact: Sarah Mulhern Gross, NBCT
High-Risk Staff/Students and Accommodations
1. How will immune-compromised staff or students be accommodated? If people have conditions on the CDC's list of higher risk factors are districts required to provide further accommodations?
2. Will accommodations be standardized from district to district?
3. Will non-tenured teachers qualify for health accommodations?
4. How will non-tenured teachers feel comfortable advocating for themselves without fear of removal?
5. How will schools get substitutes during this time when there is already a shortage? Many subs are also in the high-risk category due to age.
6. The CDC now considers pregnancy a high-risk health concern. What options will staff who are pregnant have? Will they need to meet specific criteria?
7. Will there be requirements for staff to qualify as "high risk" and therefore be allowed to use leave?
8. The state has indicated that staff and students with specific illnesses should be given the option to remote teach/ teleschool. What about someone who is a caregiver for a medically complex young child? Mt child qualifies under the guidance to stay home, but if I have to go into work daily I risk bringing it home to her, therefore not allowing me to fully protect my child. What options are there for people like myself who care for someone who falls into the vulnerable population?
9. Is any consideration made for staff who cannot limit exposure due to living with essential personnel, like law enforcement, medical, or grocery employees? What about students who live with essential personnel?
10. When deciding which teachers qualify to teach remotely due to elevated risk, who determines the parameters of what counts as higher risk? A doctor? The insurance company? A building administrator? Other?
11. Will staff/students be required to disclose specific medical issues in order to qualify as high-risk or will a doctor’s note deeming them high risk be sufficient?
12. To whom will staff members have to disclose medical conditions that qualify them as high-risk? Will their information be kept confidential? What about disclosing the health concerns of family members who are high risk?
13. If a staff member is immune compromised and not comfortable returning in September and chooses to take FMLA, is the 12 month waiting period still in effect if that staff member later becomes ill/pregnant/has a sick family member within that 12 month period?
14. If a para with longevity is immune compromised and chooses not to return, is their job still secure? Is there ability for paras to work from home until their doctor deems it safe to return?
15. What accommodations will be made for educators/their families? For example, many staff members have children in other districts that may choose different models of school with split sessions or hybrid learning how will that be handled?
16. Will staff who have more training and expertise in virtual instruction be given priority in leading virtual classes for students who cannot attend in-person classes?
17. Will there be a cap on sick day usage for older staff who have accumulated more than 50 days? 75? 100?
18. If students are allowed the option to stay home, can staff who are compromised, or live with someone compromised, also opt to teach from home?
19. Can staff who have breathing issues use face shields in place of masks?
20. Will 504 accommodations be made for staff in buildings without air conditioning who many now require AC due to wearing a mask? Conditions like COPD will likely require AC.
21. If we aren't comfortable going to school to teach once plans are laid out in our district, can we opt to do so remotely? Will we be guaranteed our jobs?
22. Will districts offer before school care and aftercare?
23. Will educators receive priority treatment, similar to that offered to other frontline workers, for childcare?
24. A recent survey found that at least 1 in 5 teachers are unlikely to return in the fall due to Covid-19. According to the USDOE, New Jersey has teacher shortages in Bilingual/Bicultural education, Middle School (all subjects), ESL, Mathematics, Science (All), Special Education, World Languages (All), and Career and Technical Endorsements (All). How will this shortage and the loss of up to 20% of our current teachers affect teaching responsibilities?
25. Will districts offer more money for substitutes since the risk of infection is high? Will districts cover health insurance costs if a substitute gets sick as a result of working?
26. What are the options for educators who care for elderly parents who can no longer attend adult day programs (because they are closed or because of health concerns) and they are unable to stay home alone?
27. What are the options for staff who may live with immunocompromised individuals that are not immediate family members? Will the family unit be defined in the same way bereavement days are handled? Can contracts be reopened to broaden the definition of family? For example, will a couple need to be legally married in order for a staff member to be qualify as high-risk based on a medically fragile family member?
28. Will small children and babies be viewed as high risk and their parents considered for remote learning or accommodations? How will parents that have taken FLMA this year for pregnancy be compensated for time off due to Covid?
29. Will consideration be given to allowing staff to enroll their own children in the district where they work in order to allow their children to follow the same schedule as the employed parent?
30. If an older teacher is worried about returning to school and is thinking about retiring will there be packages offered?
31. If we contract the virus at work, will we be able to claim workman’s compensation since it occurred in the workplace? This seems especially importan since it could take months to fully recover from the illness.
32. If a teacher or their family members gets Covid after returning to work but had requested to work remotely and was denied can the district be sued for liability?
33. What do teachers do about childcare for their school-aged children if they are expected to be in school full time but the students are on a hybrid plan? If students are only in school some days and forced into some kind of childcare other days, we are increasing the risk/exposure that these students return to school with after being in alternative childcare settings with students from other schools/communities.
Student/Staff Health and Safety
34. If a teacher dies from COVID contracted while at school, does the state still pay their surviving spouse the MBOS Life Insurance payout?
35. Who will be held accountable if a second wave of COVID is caused by reopening schools?
36. Since masks protect others from the mask-wearer, is the state’s position that teachers and staff do not need to be protected, but students need to be protected from us?
37. How will educators be supported financially if they become permanently disabled by the virus contracted, possibly, at schools?
38. Will the state attendance laws be changed so students/families aren't compelled to come to school sick?
39. Why has the state, to date, moved as a single unit (rather than regions or counties), but will leave school openings up to individual districts?
40. The opening guidance from the state seems to be built on the idea that airborne transmission is based on droplets not aerosol, therefore masks, hand washing, cleaning surfaces, and 6 ft distancing are the mitigation strategies. Emerging research/data/opinion is that transmission MAY be aerosol, in which case the issues become air circulation, treatment, filtering (HEPA), and respirators vs. masks. If the state determines that a local restaurant can not serve socially distanced patrons in a heavily climate controlled atmosphere, due to safety concerns for a small group for about an hour, how is it possible to suppose large groups of students and staff can work in a non-climate controlled, hot, humid (think mold), non filtered area for 4+ hours/day?
41. Are teachers going to be required to tested on a regular basis as a requirement for working?
42. How does hybrid schedule make sense? If it’s not safe to go everyday, how is it safe to go one or two days a week?
43. Will there be a limit to how