As governments around the world work to mitigate the effects for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, NJEA members are rising to the challenges of protecting their students and continuing to educate them despite extraordinary circumstances. On the same day that New Jersey announced its first death resulting from the novel coronavirus the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic. People in countries around the world are adjusting to life in the face of this pandemic, and educators are easing this difficult for transition for many families.
On the day the Review went to press (March 16), there were 98 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the Garden State and more than 400 school districts had announced they would close for long period of times. Gov. Phil Murphy announced that all schools that had not already closed, would close no later than March 18.
This is unprecedented.
Murphy has assured education officials that the state will waive the 180-day requirement for students this school year. This is the first time since the law’s passage that this has happened. School districts across the state are entering into extended periods of remote learning for the first time in our state’s history. This means school will go on—learning will continue—even when class is not in physically in session.
As disruptions to daily life begin, educators are stepping up in every way one might imagine to help students, families and communities feel safe and prepared for extended school closures.
Prior to major announcements by school districts around the state, school nurses played a critical role in keeping schools safe. School nurses identified sick children, communicated with families and made sure entire school communities were safe. Without the guidance of these health care professionals, schools around the state could have faced many more challenges. During school closures, school nurses will no doubt continue to assist students and families, using new tools to provide that critical support.
Educational support professionals (ESP) have played a critical role in keeping schools safe, and many around the state are poised to play an equally important role in helping students retain some semblance of normalcy as schools transitioned to long-term periods of
Prior to this situation, it was ESPs, often students’ most trusted adult role models at school, calming nerves and keeping schools safe by keeping them clean. It was school bus drivers who helped school nurses identify sick children before they entered the buildings. It was the custodians who worked longer hours and rearranged their daily schedules to ensure they could clean “high touch” areas, keeping everyone safe. It was paraprofessionals who helped comfort our schools, most vulnerable children, and, as schools moved to remote learning, the work was only beginning. It was ESPs in every job classification who stepped up in a time of transition to make sure that our schools keep working, even as most employees go home, so that our schools and
communities are safer.
In districts everywhere, ESP members in every job category are working with district administrators to develop plans that meet the needs of students while taking all necessary measures to keep students, staff and communities safe. It’s a difficult balance, and not every school will come up with the same solution. But in every situation, NJEA members will strive to do the right thing for our students and our communities.
For example, nearly 15% of students who attend New Jersey’s public school receive free or reduced-priced lunches, and many schools intend to keep delivering those meals to those students. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, and we’ve seen districts across the state respond with smart, safe plans to meet those needs. Where districts have worked in partnership with NJEA members, amazing things are happening.
Of course, teachers, as they so often do, made magic happen with almost no time. As March began, schools in New Jersey were not even considering a move to remote learning. Teachers were planning lessons as they always did. Yet as this crisis evolved, teachers made adjustments, teachers helped keep students informed and calm, and teachers did what they do best: teach children.
As the situation quickly evolved, thousands of teachers around the state made contingency plans with almost no notice for the sake of their students. They shifted their materials to new, online platforms they’ve never used before. They met, shared ideas, and collaborated to shift years of in-class instruction-related materials to online coursework. An almost impossible task that was completed while maintaining all regular duties. They did it all for children—all while seeing to the critical needs of their own children and, in many cases, their aging and vulnerable parents.
While no one is under the illusion that online learning is a substitute for in-person instruction, NJEA members have consistently sought to do the very best for their students under very challenging conditions.
This crisis is unlike any other our state—or nation, or world—has faced in recent memory, and educators have remained steadfast throughout. So as these uncertain times unfold before us, let us acknowledge the role educators play in keeping students safe and pushing learning forward.