Two days after the Vernon Township School District returned to in-person instruction, teachers went before the school board to sound off about the challenges.
On Jan. 19, the district returned to a hybrid schedule of five full days a week. At the Jan. 21 school board meeting, teachers discussed their concerns, which included the challenges of administering lunch safely during the pandemic and the lack of personal protection equipment.
Vicky Smith, an English teacher and president of the Vernon Township Education Association (VTEA), bemoaned a lack of communication before teachers and students returned to campus.
“We want a seat at the table because we are the ones on the front lines,” Smith said. “That’s all we want. We understand we’re not the decision makers, but we’d like to have input.”
Smith stressed that the teachers union’s priority has always been the health and safety of everyone in the district — not only teachers but students, administrators, and families.
“That position will not and has not changed,” she said.
Coleene Ranzan, building representative at the high school, said she was concerned about the lack of pandemic response custodians.
“Who are cleaning classrooms when we only have one pandemic response cleaner?” she said.
It’s a concern that was echoed in several buildings.
“Teachers have much less confidence that the building is properly staffed to maintain the necessary cleaning,” said Veronica Dignan-Corbut, the building representative at Glen Meadow Middle School. “This is absolutely not the fault of our custodial staff. They are doing the best they can with what they are given.”
Board of Education President Justin Annunziata said the board intends to fully staff the cleaning team.
“The administration is in the process of refilling those positions,” he said.
Kristy Riegler, one of the high school building reps, expressed concern about the school’s singular one-hour lunch period, which has two segments, an auditorium segment and a cafeteria segment, which splits lunch into two 25-minute periods.
There are 200 or 300 kids in high school at once, she said, making the arrangement a “25-minute super-spreader.”
“Kids have masks off for 25 minutes,” she said. “It’s in the air. They get up and leave, and the next group of 150 comes in and takes their masks off, and it’s there. We know this virus is airborne.”
She likened the lunch periods to playing “Russian Roulette” with students’ lives.
“This is something we need to take a look at,” said board of education member Martin O’Donnell. “I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s a safety issue.”
Shields and purifiers
Several teachers discussed problems with some of the desk shields, the lack of face shields for teachers, and air purifiers that had not yet arrived.
Superintendent Karen D’Avino and Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay said air purifiers will arrive this week. They said the district already has face shields and would make sure they got to the teachers.
D’Avino said this was the first time she’d heard some of these concerns. She said the district is required to provide anything the teachers believe they need.
“Because we are trying to educate during Covid, the PPE and the things that you are requesting are just as integral to teaching as manipulatives, textbooks, Chromebooks, iPads, or whatever devices you are using to teach with,” said D’Avino. “Anything you need, let us know.”
“Because we are trying to educate during Covid, the PPE and the things that you are requesting are just as integral to teaching as manipulatives, textbooks, Chromebooks, iPads, or whatever devices you are using to teach with. Anything you need, let us know.” Superintendent Karen D’Avino