Hillsborough Education Association continues claims of unsatisfactory school conditions

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The Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) released a statement on Sept. 10 updating the community on the status of schools in Hillsborough upon the start of the school year:

“Last week, the HEA shared a growing list of concerns and photographic evidence regarding the conditions of our buildings and the administration’s ongoing willingness to implement a safe district reopening plan. Throughout the summer months, and even recently, the HEA has requested Dr. Lisa Antunes (superintendent of schools) and board leadership collaboratively address the outstanding concerns and take steps to keep students and staff safe while doing so.

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“Unfortunately, there still has been no response to the concerns raised, conditions continue to worsen and few steps have been taken to remediate the safety issues that exist within our buildings. Even though we have officially begun the school year with some students in the buildings, the district continues to refuse to respond to OPRA requests regarding HVAC performance, filter ratings, the functionality of exhaust fans, the arrival of ordered PPE and cleaning supplies and other basic documents used to assert the safety of our buildings to the state. Moreover, there are still countless classrooms without hand sanitizing stations, as required by NJDOE Road Back guidance. These issues alone would be reason for concern, but we regret to inform the community that even greater safety concerns have emerged this week.

“Earlier this year, the community generously supported the district’s referendum and sought to invest in our buildings’ infrastructure. Instead of using the time when staff and students were not present to make these improvements, the board leadership and Dr. Antunes opened the school year by sending students and staff back to active construction sites with known hazards.

“The most obvious concerns are present at Hillsborough Middle School where roofing construction is taking place. The level of construction required should have been reason enough for Dr. Antunes and board leadership to take a more cautious approach to reopening. Instead, they have ignored roofing debris falling through vents and ceiling tiles, the noise and heavy machinery disrupting lessons members attempt to conduct from their rooms, broken sidewalks, large dumpsters placed in front of the building and most recently, a large section of ventilation ductwork coming loose and collapsing through the ceiling into the nurse’s office bathroom – an area used by both students and staff. Thankfully, no one was injured, but even with adjustments to the construction schedule, the unfortunate likelihood of another incident remains high. We simply cannot understand how reopening our schools with these known hazards was ever deemed as acceptable in the first place.

“Throughout other buildings, we have found more incidents of mold, rain water running down classroom walls, stained/moldy ceiling tiles and continued HVAC concerns. Many of these issues were ignored before the pandemic and now have grown to add an even greater urgency for the board leadership and Dr. Antunes to act in order to ensure that the district’s reopening plan is built upon commonsense and a shared responsibility to place student and staff safety as the District’s top priority. The HEA remains committed to providing excellent educational experiences for our students and returning them to buildings as soon as safely possible. Now, in addition to the challenges we face to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay, Hillsborough’s staff and students are now subjected to unnecessary hazards and outstanding safety issues resulting from a lack of transparency and honest conversation.

:We have said it before, but it bears repeating: it’s clear that our district’s reopening plan is not what’s ‘Best for Boro.’ We urge the community to stand with the HEA and put a stop to this nonsense. Email Dr. Antunes lantunes@htps.us and the Board of Education at boe@htps.us and tell them that health and safety issues should never be labor-management issues.

Editor’s note: Neither Dr. Antunes nor members of the Board of Education could be reached for comment.

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