TRENTON, N.J. – Amid coronavirus school closures and remote learning modules, state officials are failing to uphold the education article in the New Jersey State Constitution, says Assemblyman Erik Peterson.
“The current administration has let New Jersey’s educational system become an egregious causality of the coronavirus,” said Peterson (R-Hunterdon). “A thorough and efficient education is a right that is guaranteed to all children under the state’s constitution. The so-called solutions created by state officials and school districts do not even come close to meeting our obligations.”
Due to the current public health crisis, only 89 school districts are open for in-person instruction, 438 districts are offering a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, and 246 have gone all-remote. Since the beginning of the school year, there have been 70 outbreaks and 285 coronavirus cases tied to classroom or other academic activities.
“Facts matter, the total school cases account for .08 percent of all the coronavirus cases. Other activities that students and teachers engage in outside of school carry more risk than participating in essential education,” said Peterson. “Governor Murphy himself has begrudgingly admitted that school infections are far below what anyone had anticipated and those offering in-person instruction have not seen any significant transmission of Covid being traced back to the school.”
The nation’s health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said schools should only shut down as a last resort to slow the spread of the virus. The agency’s data did not find a link between a rise in cases and schools reopening in the fall.
“As a father of four children in public school, I know that the children of New Jersey are being denied their civil rights by the governor’s unilateral dictates which are allowing the teachers union to force schools to provide inadequate educational services to our children citing flawed science,” said Peterson. “The Legislature must act to stop the Murphy administration’s arbitrary dictates which have created this mess.”
Schools that are open for face-to-face instruction are performing temperature checks, supporting additional cleaning and sanitizing protocols, mandating masks, and abiding by social distancing guidelines to protect students and staff.
“Schools have proven that they are safe, but for some reason children are not back in the classroom,” continued Peterson. “Since Murphy has decided to cower to the teachers union instead of standing up for New Jersey’s children, the Legislature must take action to require schools open to provide the education guaranteed to our children in the state constitution and the education that their parents and New Jersey taxpayers are paying for.”
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said that the data is clear – you can open schools for face-to-face learning in a safe and responsible manner.
“The truth is, for kids K through 12, one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school,” Redfield said at a recent press briefing.
Peterson suggested that teachers who choose not to work during the pandemic or are only working half days, as is the case in many districts across the state, should see the decisions reflected in their paychecks.
“They should be paid half pay or be furloughed like all those individual businesses suffering under Murphy’s shut-down edicts,” said Peterson.
One study found that higher percentages of schools returned to in-person instruction in small, low-minority, low-poverty, and high-achieving districts. Students from low-income and disadvantaged communities are not receiving the same opportunities.
“Many of these children are not just receiving a substandard education – they are not getting any instruction of any kind,” explained Peterson.
In Camden, school leaders have reported that about 25 percent of students are not logging into virtual school. In Jersey City public schools, which are also all-remote, some schools in low-income neighborhoods reported daily attendance between 70 and 80 percent. Kindergarten, first and second grade students have the lowest attendance rate overall. According to Department of Education statistics, about 33,851 New Jersey students still lack a device or internet access for remote learning.
“Our public schools were not designed to deliver an effective online education. But even if they were, many students are not suited to learning through a computer, others don’t have the means to access the internet or they lack the adult supervision and guidance they’d need to succeed in such an environment,” said Peterson. “We need to get teachers back in the classroom and students in their seats. It’s time to start offering the taxpayer-supported services and constitutionally-protected education our children deserve and so desperately need.”