By Angel Boose, 3rd grade teacher, City of East Orange

Like almost every other district in the state, the school employees in East Orange Public Schools watched the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and wondered how – and when – it would affect their community. By March 13, we knew that our district would be moving to virtual instruction at least through the end of the month. That day, my school gathered together teachers by grade level and asked them to determine which books they deemed essential that should be sent home with the students on that day.

Teachers reported to work on Monday, March 16 from 8:30 a.m. until 12:45 p.m. to prepare for a virtual learning platform. We also developed lists of which students had been absent on Friday so that their parents could come to the school to pick up the books that were deemed essential. 

All classroom teachers, social workers, counselors, and administrators were told they would need to set up a Google Classroom and ensure they were providing instruction from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Educators shared resources and tips for setting up their Google Classrooms. I’ve never seen teachers ban together to design an entirely new way of teaching in such a short amount of time. We would need to follow a required weekly instructional scheduled that included two hours of English Language Arts, two hours of math, and one hour of science Monday through Thursday, as well as one hour of social studies, two hours of physical education, and two hours of electives on Friday. 

Prior to leaving on Monday we discussed the potential equity issues that may arise. What if a family does not have internet access? What if a family has one device or limited devices and multiple children who need to be in their virtual classrooms at the same time? What do we do with children who require special services and cannot work independently and may not have a parent or guardian around to assist them during the virtual classroom time? These are all serious considerations that many other districts are also struggling to address.

This learning platform requires a sense of responsibility and know-how that some third graders may not possess. Without the direct assistance of a parent or guardian, some students are not going to get the work done, and many parents are working from home or outside of the home and don’t have the time to help. There are parents and guardians who are not as technologically savvy, and cannot help the students navigate through the virtual learning platform. These were things that I’m sure were considered, but could not be addressed in the short time we had to redesign the way we educate our students.  

Educators are on the phone making phone calls asking why students have not been present in the Google Classroom or aren’t completing all of their work. They were encouraged to use *67 to block their numbers or other apps that allow you to call from a number other than their personal phone number. And it was shared that even with *67 certain phones still allow the number to show up. Educators are not encouraged to share their personal information with parents and guardians for a variety of reasons, but the primary reason being their own protection against accusations and harassment. 

Many educators and staff are going to need glasses soon, if they don’t have them already. The recommended time on the computer should be no more than 20 minutes at a time, but we all know that is not the case with a virtual learning platform. I get that in desperate times, we must resort to desperate measures, but there may be short-term and long-term effects on the health of educators and students including their vision, physical health, weight, and nutrition. 

To ensure students who rely on school breakfast and lunch get fed, the East Orange School District has put in place Grab & Go Breakfast & Lunch during the time school is closed. Parents and students can pick them up between the hours of 8-10 a.m. at five school sites throughout the city. 

Another bright spot in our district is the administration’s commitment to ensuring that our educational support professional (ESP) colleagues maintain their employment – and, therefore, their health benefits – during this crisis.

These are unprecedented times for our state, our country, and the world. Everyone should do their best to address the needs of students, educators, parents, and the greater community. We must consider the impact on all people when making decisions. This is the time for all of us to remember our humanity and help others as much as we can. Be understanding most of all. You never know what someone is going through just to survive. There are long-term effects that will come from this pandemic, and none of us can quite grasp how devastating the effects will be, but I know that the school employees in your community are doing their best to ensure that children continue to learn, have access to nutritious food, and feel as secure as possible in this new environment. 

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