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Open Letter To Gov. Murphy On School Opening

By Jonathan Medina, Somerset.

Dear Governor Murphy,

I appreciate your efforts to keep New Jersey residents safe. You were swift in your response, closing the state to all but essential businesses, while mandating face-masks. I also am grateful that the state has employed contact-tracing efforts to ensure that those who are infected do not further spread the disease. As a result, the number of COVID-19 cases has declined in New Jersey, which again is a testament to your leadership. However, reopening schools in the Fall still seems too preliminary at this point.

Unfortunately, many are not taking disease containment seriously. While other developed countries including Germany, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain have seen a significant decline in their numbers since March, much like New York and New Jersey, the United States just topped four million cases, which more than doubles the number from six weeks ago. We have had more than a thousand deaths four of the last five days, and the total number of deaths, which now exceeds 140,000, is greater than the number of Americans who died in World War I. Yet, skeptics continue to downplay the science. Overall, we have to anticipate that New Jersey might have a second wave, or areas in close proximity might become hotspots, based on how new epicenters have arisen.

Even if you think New Jersey’s improvement warrants reopening, there should be consideration of what school might look like. Safety must take precedence above all else, which means enforcing rigid social distancing and mask requirements. Most schools, therefore, do not have the capacity to fit all students each day. When students are able to attend, perhaps on a split schedule, they must stay away from their peers and limit their socialization. They also have to be careful about moving around the classroom or building. These guidelines are necessary, but go against the grain of students’ nature as social creatures to interact face-to-face and get up and move. They also go against the grain of quality teaching, which requires a mix of independent and cooperative learning. Furthermore, reopening puts schools in the precarious position of implementing zero-tolerance policies and over-disciplining students who fail to comply with safety accords.

Overall, I have tried to keep an open mind about reopening, but with each successive week, I have seen the COVID-19 crisis exacerbate in our country. Children may not be dying at the rate of adults who are afflicted, but we are still learning about what the long-term effects are after recovery. Inflammatory conditions, which children are known to suffer from, are nothing to scoff at. Let’s not forget that schools are also populated by adults who may be at higher risk based on preexisting conditions, OR that children and educational staff have family members whom they interact with on a daily basis, OR that this disease has affected communities of color at a disproportionately high rate. Is it really worth risking the safety of all to reopen for some limited form of traditional schooling? Why not double down on remote learning that’s best suited for the times by providing students with devices and high-quality internet? We can table the discussion for reopening for a more appropriate time when a public health crisis does not loom over our heads.

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