Opinion: Hillsborough Education Association will continue to oppose any reopening plan that does not value both student and staff safety

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Dr. Lisa Antunes and the Board of Education decided on Aug. 20 to unilaterally change Hillsborough’s reopening plan, announcing that they now will opt for a virtual opening in September for students only.

In their announcement, they failed to state that they still expect staff to report to their assigned school buildings. While the recognition that they cannot safely bring students back is a step in the right direction, the profound indifference they have shown for our members’ safety and their families is unacceptable.

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It is no coincidence that the board and Dr. Antunes chose to announce this change on the same day that the district’s physician was scheduled to hold a virtual meeting with staff in an attempt to convince employees that returning to school was safe. Ironically, this meeting was held in the wake of the district’s tacit admission of its plan’s flaws and inability to guarantee student safety. The administration concluded this meeting by filtering members’ questions and rephrasing them as they saw fit. Instead of addressing legitimate concerns and the glaring shortcomings within this newest plan, the district leadership continued to rationalize their stance. It is of note that the Board of Education still refuses to hold an in-person meeting, whilst still expecting staff to report to school.

It is disheartening that Dr. Antunes and the Board of Education refuse to treat our members as professionals, let alone value our well-being. In addition to the disparate treatment of staff in the midst of a pandemic, this new approach raises a number of concerns regarding working conditions, basic health, staffing levels and what areas the district failed to meet to be able to open under the NJDOE’s guidance – none of which have been answered by the administration.

The administration has also failed to provide the HVAC systems report or Letter of Attestation (a letter required by the state certifying that our schools are safe), both of which are required to safely reopen schools. Moreover, because of the lack of collaboration between all stakeholders, we were required to file OPRA requests for all of this information. These requests have yet to be fulfilled.

The Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) will continue to oppose any reopening plan that does not value both student and staff safety. We urge the community to join us in our call for the board and administration to embrace transparency, disclose their failings and make district school staff’s safety a priority. The HEA remains committed to this goal and partnering with all who seek the “Best for BORO”.

Henry Goodhue           

                        President, Hillsborough Education Association 
First Vice President, Somerset County Education Association 

 

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