Petition to Give All NJ Children the Option of In-Person Learning

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This petition is put forth by NJ families in an effort to secure an equal opportunity for in-person education for our children during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are deeply concerned that our children have been learning remotely for far too long. Many of our children have been 100% remote since March 2020, with a proposed return to school in late January 2021. However the history of this situation does not give us hope that a return to in-person learning will occur. While more than half of NJ school districts opened in September, some districts have remained closed since March and the promise of reopening has been repeatedly postponed.

Initially, a state mandate guaranteed that all NJ children would have the opportunity for in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year. That mandate was modified in August to allow districts to begin school remotely with an explanation, a plan, and a proposed reopening date. Many districts declared that they would go fully remote the very next day or soon after the mandate was issued. These districts have since proposed multiple reopening dates, only to pull those plans at the last minute and defer the date again and again. The latest promise of a January opening does not give us confidence that our children will return to school. We need more than promises. We need another mandate.

Although many of our districts have completed the safety upgrades they said were required to transition to in-person learning, they have nonetheless delayed reopening due to high transmission rates of the virus. Governor Murphy, you yourself released a statement along with six other governors in which you said “in person learning is safe when the appropriate protections are in place, even in communities with high transmission rates.” During your news conferences, you have repeatedly said that school outbreaks have remained low and that you don’t see a need to order schools to close. But that is in fact what is happening in our districts. We believe that if the reason for closure is due to high transmission rates, that decision should be across the board and consistent for all schools, not based on individual district preferences which leave some children going to school while others continue to struggle with no end in sight. We also believe that given that in person school provides an “essential service”, schools should be the last to close after non-essential businesses have closed.

Indoor dining is open. Gyms, hair salons, and nail salons are open. Retail is open. So many non-essential businesses are open, yet providing the essential public good of in-person education to all of NJ’s children remains optional. Hundreds of NJ school districts are open, and it has been a ray of light for those families to see their children learning, socializing, and feeling some sense of normalcy. Yet those of us who live in districts that stayed 100% remote are still waiting and hoping for that day to come. Our children have been home without an in-person education for over 10 months with no end in sight. The inequity of the situation is appalling and these children are suffering emotionally, intellectually, and physically as a result.

Schools provide more than academics, they provide social and emotional learning, exercise, and for many children, access to healthy meals as well as a safe place to be while parents are working. Many families do not have the financial ability to hire a caregiver and are forced to choose between going to work and providing adequate care and support for their children. This only serves to further the social and economic division between privileged children and children from lower income families. For many families, private school, a pod, or an in-home caregiver is simply not an option.

Science and health data collected throughout the pandemic show that schools, particularly elementary schools, are not driving the transmission of COVID-19. Transmission rates in schools are relatively low, especially when compared to other permitted activities such as indoor dining and small gatherings. The CDC, pediatricians, and mental health professionals are in agreement that it is essential to get the children back into classrooms. Remote learning is not an adequate or acceptable substitute for in-person learning. Children are disengaged, isolated, and depressed. Special needs students, students from low income families, and our youngest learners are being hit especially hard, and there is no way to discern how long it will take to reverse the damage.

Please help our children by giving them back the right to the public, in-person education that they deserve. We implore Governor Phil Murphy to re-issue the statewide mandate to provide in-person learning options for all school districts in NJ.

NJ Families for In-Person Learning (NJFIL)

 

Please see below for links to some relevant articles supporting the points made in this petition:

https://globalepidemics.org/2020/12/18/schools-and-the-path-to-zero-strategies-for-pandemic-resilience-in-the-face-of-high-community-spread/

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/covid-having-devastating-impact-children-vaccine-won-t-fix-everything-n1251172

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/20/health-202-evidence-doesnt-support-closing-schools-stop-coronavirus/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/world/unicef-warns-of-a-lost-generation-and-finds-school-closures-are-ineffective.html?auth=login-google

https://www.aappublications.org/news/2021/01/05/covid-school-safety-010521

https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2021/01/three-studies-highlight-low-covid-risk-person-school



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