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Teachers request leave of absence due to COVID

Although a Community Park School staff member has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been quarantined, the Princeton Public Schools opened Oct. 5 for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grades students as planned.

The staff member, who was at the Community Park School on Sept. 30, several days before school opened for limited in-person instruction, is the only staff member to have tested positive for COVID-19 as of press time on Oct. 7, school district officials said. The staff member was asymptomatic.

No children were present while the staff member was at the elementary school on Witherspoon Street. The staff member had limited contact with other staffers. The Princeton Health Department has been in touch with staffers who may have had prolonged contact with that person, officials said.

Meanwhile, some Princeton Public Schools teachers are on edge for fear of catching COVID-19 while they are teaching in school. An undisclosed number of teachers have requested permission to teach remotely from home. It is also unknown how many of those requests have been approved and how many have been denied.

The Princeton Public Schools is not willing to discuss personnel matters at this point, said Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso.

But one teacher who request was denied made her concerns known as the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education’s Sept. 29 meeting.

Princeton High School science teacher Alexis Custer told the school board that her request for accommodation to teach her courses from home had been denied, despite presenting a physician’s note and supplemental letter that advised her to stay home.

Custer said she suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and that she is taking immunosuppressant medication. She has been hospitalized in the past for the condition, and she has been recommended to stay home. If she were to contract COVID-19, there could be severe consequences, she said.

Custer said she was told by school district administrators that her options were to come into school and teach, or to take an unpaid leave of absence for the 2020-21 school year.

“This places an undue burden on me. I will have no pay and no (health) insurance for a whole year,” Custer said.

Custer said she has worked out a plan that would enable her to teach her students remotely. If she opts for a leave of absence, the students will be left with having to adapt to a new science teacher in October, and she will also be leaving her supervisor in the lurch.

“I am asking for cases like mine to be taken into consideration and not just be a blanket stamp of ‘the only way you can perform your essential duties is if you are in the building.’ That is not the case,” Custer said.

School district officials, in the meantime, have acknowledged that there may be a need to hire additional substitute teachers to fill in the gaps because of the many staff changes as a result of COVID-19. They may be needed to fill in for teachers who are out on sick days.

The school board approved a resolution at it Sept. 29 meeting to authorize Michael Volpe, the assistant superintendent for human resources, to “complete the hires and provide contracts in between board meetings, following the county-authorized emergent hire process.” The new hires will be formally hired at a subsequent school board meeting.

The school board also approved a resolution reappointing 147 substitute teachers at daily rates between $95 and $105 per day. It increased the daily rate to be competitive with other school districts that need to hire substitute teachers.

In addition, the school board appointed 92 instructional aides who would be eligible to be substitute teachers. The goal is to provide consistency for the students, whether they are being taught remotely or in a hybrid setting, school district officials said.



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