Don’t open the door to more remote learning in NJ (Letter to the editor)
I write this letter with the hope that parents and guardians of school-aged children in Montclair and throughout the state will look more deeply into the proposed assembly bill A-2199, “the snow day bill.” The bill has already passed unanimously in state Senate but still must be approved by the Assembly.
In its current state it has less to do with “snow days” and more to do with embracing virtual school. A-2199 allows districts to count remote days towards the 180-day requirement for state funding. The bill effectively legalizes remote learning.
Under this bill, school closures will be permitted for reasons beyond declared states of emergency. The following excerpt pulled from the bill is troublingly vague: "or any circumstances that requires the closure of the schools of a district." All health-related scenarios worthy of shutting down schools and districts should be named. Last spring, our shared health department shut down Verona schools and returned to virtual learning due to a heatwave. Will local health departments and other such agencies have the power to shut down schools whenever it's too hot? Too cold? When there are issues with ventilation? When infrastructure collapses, which is an ongoing problem in Montclair schools?
Regarding the phrasing from the bill “in the event that there is inclement weather or hazardous transportation conditions that require the closure of the schools,” recently we have seen local districts shut down for predicted snow that never came, several inches of snow and even wind and rain. New Jersey schools have called for half sessions when temperatures rise above 90. In the future, will they simply throw in the towel and go remote?
In addition to the vagueness concerning when a call to close schools would be permissible, the open-ended language used when discussing how remote learning will affect special needs students and students with IEP. is alarming. “Services may be delivered to students with disabilities … to the greatest extent practicable.” “To the greatest extent practicable?” This is the education of a generation of students who have already lost so much. There is simply no room for this sort of ambiguity.
Remote school for most students (elementary students in particular) is not a viable alternative. The data does not lie. School shutdowns and remote learning exacerbated inequity and learning loss across the board. Rather than reflecting intelligently upon the last two years and passing legislation that works to protect New Jersey children from remote school, the state is shamelessly pushing to legalize it.
During the pandemic, we in Montclair learned the extremity of circumstances that allowed for remote school. Many of us believe that those circumstances that kept our children out of the classroom for over a year were not warranted. State law currently permits virtual learning in a state of emergency only. There is compelling reason for current law to be revisited, but only to safeguard students from harmful and unnecessary school closures, certainly not to establish more leeway to go remote. Do we really want to give local authorities and superintendents a blank check to grant virtual learning days at their discretion?
If you find the language in this bill ambiguous and/or have children who struggle with remote learning, please reach out to the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Pedro Mejia, Assemblywoman Angelica M. Jimenez, state Sen. Nicholas Sacco, state Sen. Joseph A. Lagana, state Sen. Samuel D. Thompson, state Sen. Linda R. Greenstein, and state SEn. Nellie Pou and speak out against A-2199.
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