MILLBURN, NJ — The Millburn schools are considered among the most competitive in New Jersey, consistently ranking in the top 10 for standardized test scores. But that doesn’t mean all of the parents are pleased — especially since the district announced two weeks ago that students will only be able to learn remotely until Nov. 9 at the earliest.
“Our family and some others relocated to the district specifically because of the reputation regarding its high-quality public schools,” wrote a parent in a petition posted on-line this week, signed by more than 300 parents as of Thursday morning. “However, based on last year’s experience and the poor quality of instruction due to remote learning and teachers inept in the online learning environment (Google Classroom), many are considering moving away.”
Like several nearby districts, the Millburn schools open Tuesday. And like at least 242 districts in New Jersey — more than a third — they have chosen to offer only distance learning for the next few months, saying a portion of their teaching staff can’t return to the schools on time.
“We are experiencing a significant reduction in the number of available staff due to 79 submissions for work accommodations for medically-documented reasons or for childcare leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act received as of, Monday August 17,” Burton wrote in an Aug. 20 letter. “Staff have received certification from physicians for medical concerns regarding high-risk conditions as determined by the CDC … Requests are still being submitted.”
She also said that the district will attempt to phase in students with special needs and younger students earlier than Nov. 9.
Last month, the Millburn teachers’ union, like many others, expressed concerns about reopening on time.
The elimination of an initially offered hybrid learning option has frustrated Millburn parents.
“Other nearby districts like Summit and Chatham are opening in a hybrid learning mode,” the petition notes, “with both in-person and virtual learning. Because of this, we believe our children are not getting the proper amount of instruction, they are suffering both emotionally and psychologically due to isolation.”
The parent noted, “If the 79 teachers do not want to return to school to teach our children, then they should be replaced by others willing to do the job. Or, for the teachers who can’t be physically present due to their health concerns, perhaps they teach remotely while the students are supervised by an aide in the classroom.”
The parent urged the district to create a plan with input from staff and parents, and make sure the district can stay open “without creating an outbreak.”
As of Thursday morning, 337 parents had signed.
One parent explained, “Remote learning does not work for my child. I don’t think the issue is that teachers don’t want to come in. I think they have circumstances that prevent it. But we need to think of creative solutions to get the kids in school. If we can figure out how to have Alphabest and SAM in our schools I think we can have at least the youngest and most vulnerable populations in school.”
Another parent wrote, “Listen to the science not the media” and then linked to an opinion piece in the Boston Globe.
On Wednesday, the couple who started the petition posted an update saying they’d try to set up a meeting among parents and Dr. Burton.
The CDC says that most children will recover from the virus. But with scientists gathering new information about the virus daily, they also note that children are “at risk for severe covid-19.” The CDC notes, “Reinforcement of prevention efforts is essential in congregate settings that serve children, including childcare centers and schools.”
Those concerned about school reopening are more worried about children spreading the virus, as many have recently lost a parent, both parents, teachers, and siblings to the virus. At least 63 educators in New York City died of the virus by April 20, after schools shut down March 23.
The federal government has said that as many as half of non-elderly adults could have pre-existing conditions.
Eight Millburn residents in total have passed away since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Only 159 had tested positive as of last month, since the start of the pandemic.
Over the weekend, New Jersey’s total death toll climbed to 14,153. Four confirmed deaths were announced since the day before. The state also announced 388 new confirmed positive cases, bringing the total cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 191,611.
However, this daily death rate has declined since back on April 30, when it reached a peak of 460 residents in 24 hours, or one person every three minutes.
Many other states’ death rates reached records in July (see the daily totals in each state here), and had to pull back on some of their reopenings.
New Jersey has asked people to quarantine if returning from 31 states and two territories.
More than 176,000 Americans have now died of coronavirus, and more than 5.6 million have tested positive.
More than 900 health care workers have died of the virus nationally. Others are simultaneously fighting misinformation as they try to fight the virus.
Millburn school reopening information
See the current school calendar here.
Follow the Millburn Return to School site for news and updates.
Burton has advised parents with an interest in the state safety recommendations to read this new state document: NJ DOH COVID Recommendations for Schools.pdf.
Got news? Email [email protected] To be the first to get news alerts with breaking stories in Millburn including the Short Hills section, or to get a free local newsletter each morning, sign up for Patch breaking news alerts or daily newsletters.
This article originally appeared on the Millburn-Short Hills Patch