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Edison superintendent explains decision to hold in-person school after winter break; district has enhanced safety protocols

Dr. Bernard Bragen Jr., superintendent of the Edison Public School District

EDISON – The Edison Township Public School District was one of 10 school districts out of 25 in Middlesex County to open in person after the winter break.

Despite many concerns Schools Superintendent Bernard Bragen fielded from concerned parents due to the recent rise in COVID cases in the community, it’s a decision he stands by on several factors.

“These decisions are not made in isolation nor made easily,” he said during a recent Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

And unlike neighboring districts, including the Woodbridge Township School District, which had to switch to remote instruction due to staffing shortages, the Edison district has been fortunate, he said.

“Our teachers have been very professional in working their butts off to do what they can and not taking advantage of being out unless they were really a close contact or being sick and I trust in their professionalism,” Bragen said.

“Do we have absences? Yes. Are we sometimes struggling a bit to cover them? Yes. But we haven’t been at the capacity where … we don’t have enough staff members to safely staff school(s),” he said.

Bragen noted there is remote instruction access for students who have to quarantine.

With a hybrid model of an option of remote instruction or in-person learning off the table per Gov. Phil Murphy’s directive at the start of the school year, Bragen said he has to take everything into account for all the 16,500 students and more than 2,000 staff members.

The many factors to remain in person include the “many significant learning losses” during the 18 months of remote instruction, the superintendent said.

“Students are not where they would traditionally be and not just kindergarten and preschool, every level,” Bragen said. “Our teachers did a valiant effort and all they [could] to make sure all of their students met with success in an online format, but it wasn’t the same. It’s not the same as being in the classroom and not just the learning aspect, the social aspect. Many are struggling. We have many more behavior infractions, many more students that are identified for supportive services, emotional concerns.”

Bragen said they have enhanced their safety protocols in the 19 school buildings reiterating the importance of cleaning procedures and proper mask wearing specifically during lunch periods.

At the elementary level, they have required all children to eat lunch in the classroom, which allows for social distancing.

“At the high school level, it is a lot harder to do that,” Bragen said. “In the lunchrooms there’s a lot of people, a lot of volume and it’s hard to keep everybody six feet apart for the whole time they’re eating. We can’t. We can make sure when they’re not eating, they have their masks on and when they’re moving about the cafeteria.”

In other news

The BOE reorganized with new leadership at a meeting on Jan. 3.

Douglas Schneider, who was sworn in to his first term, was nominated and elected to serve as board president. Shivi Prasad-Madhukar was nominated and elected to serve as board vice president.

Also at the meeting, Biral Patel was sworn in to his first elected term and Brian Rivera was sworn in to his first term.

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