In written comments, respondents to a recent NJSBA survey expressed concern about possible budget cuts, online student learning, students’ mental health, sanitizing schools and delivery of special education services.
But they also expressed great pride in the efforts of staff and teachers who were asked to move instruction online practically overnight.
Those are some of the responses gleaned from a survey emailed on April 16 to all board members, superintendents, and business administrators. Initial survey findings and comments were published May 20 in “Searching for a New Normal in New Jersey’s Public Schools: An NJSBA Special Report on How the Coronavirus is Affecting Education in the Garden State.” In addition to 10 recommendations, the 37-page report outlined what one superintendent described as “hundreds of questions” that must be answered if schools are to open safely in the fall.
In Essex County, one administrator wrote that the district was well-prepared to deal with mental health issues arising from the pandemic.
“For the past two years, we have generated a list of students across all of the schools who we know require and receive emotional and mental health supports. After the closing of schools last month, we prioritized this group of students and intensified supports,” the administrator wrote. “In addition, school nurses have been following up with medically fragile students and those who require medication. Currently, we are also identifying students who are experiencing trauma, tracking those students, and enrolling those students in eight-week cohorts of therapy sessions which can be administered remotely. We are also collaborating with Columbia University to create and implement social-emotional learning instructional units that will be infused within the current curriculum.”
Some Middlesex County board members said online instruction issues had been solved. “There are several families without internet access,” a board member wrote. “I believe this has been remedied.” Said another: “We are providing devices to students who need them. Other than that, our teachers are amazing.”
A Camden County business administrator was concerned about sanitizing schools. “We’ll need guidance on the requirements… for sanitizing as well as the supply of cleaning supplies, gloves, etc. … Most things that will be needed are on backorder and are in short supply…”
An Atlantic County superintendent was concerned about any cuts to the district’s budget.
“Any state or federal funding cuts could be catastrophic to not only our district but to others,” the superintendent wrote. “Our budgets are already bare bone and in a maintenance rather than growth pattern.”
Some survey respondents expressed concern about how to properly grade or assess student work that had been completed online.
A Morris county superintendent spoke for those districts in the state that had the resources they needed to deliver high-quality online instruction. This superintendent said the district had embraced online learning and was therefore prepared to deal with the crisis.
“For the most part, my faculty and administrators have been doing very, very well. Our students are learning and engaged. We were fortunate to have a strong technology-based program in place before this even happened with nearly 40 teachers who are Google certified and all of our classrooms run on Google Classroom,” this superintendent said.
But the challenges lie with Title I, special education and students learning to speak English. “We have all personally dropped off food at various homes and have a food service delivering lunches,” said the Morris County superintendent. “The biggest challenge is probably for our working parents who are trying to teach and work at the same time. They have been frustrated but we’ve been working with each and every one of them.”