Superintendent: Number of Princeton parents choosing remote-only schooling option is growing

The number of people who send children to public schools in Princeton who are choosing the remote-only instruction option for the fall has been increasing, Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso said on Tuesday night.

“Thirty-eight percent of the public is now choosing the remote-only option,” he told the board at the public Zoom meeting Tuesday night. “The numbers seem to be growing in that direction.”

Galasso also noted that 50 certified staff members in the district and 22 support staff members have requested accommodations to work from home. “It’s quite a number,” he said. As many as 104 district staff members could be seeking accommodations to work remotely.

“We are getting to a tipping point where it’s going to be difficult to staff our schools to find replacements and to do both a hybrid and remote learning situation,” Galasso said.

He encouraged parents to make a decision about plans for the fall, noting that changes could be made later if needed. Staff members should send documentation to the administration as soon as possible, he said.

The administration for the public schools is putting together a final plan covering athletics, recommendations for hybrid and remote learning, and other issues. The plan will be presented at the school board’s next Zoom meeting on Tuesday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to make an announcement about schools today that could change district’s plans.

School officials will host a series of community Zoom meetings Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday next week to discuss the plans. The Wednesday night meeting will be for community members in general, while Thursday will be for Spanish speaking residents, and Friday will be for parents of special needs students.

Galasso also said the district is working to inventory all of its computer equipment to make sure each student will have a device in the fall for remote learning. Some laptops are on backorder because so many school districts across the country are ordering devices. The district is also working with Comcast to make sure some families without Internet access are connected. Galasso said the district has asked a private funder to pay subscription fees for 175 Comcast contracts, and to also fund 75 Wifi hotspots that would have unlimited access so kids can do research and work in devices at night.

Realizing that childcare will also be an issue for some parents, the district is asking another private funder to provide 100 scholarships for children to attend childcare at the YMCA and another 30 scholarships for children to attend the YWCA preschool.

Galasso said the district is focused on providing a robust remote learning plan. “It’s going to look different than it did last spring. Teachers will be better equipped and trained,” he said.

Some teachers in the district have expressed anxiety on social media about returning to classrooms because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some have contacted individual board members about their concerns. Galasso sent an email to staff last week telling them to not post anything about their concerns on social media, and to not contact individual board members.

“We realize these are difficult times for many of our teachers. During this pandemic, the staff and administration need to work together to make any type of reopening, either remote or in-person, a success. I have had discussions with union leadership today, and we believe that teachers should express any concerns to the administrative staff and not on social media or to individual school board members. Addressing issues outside the chain of command is in conflict with the CBA that provides all staff a procedure to resolve their issues,” he wrote.

“If a conversation with the principal of your building, your supervisor, or an administrator does not answer your concerns, please remember there is an agreed-upon process in your contract which should be followed. Mutual respect is the hallmark of our profession and should be honored,” Galasso wrote. “The union leadership recognizes that the superintendent is now directing all staff to follow established policies and procedures so that issues relating to reopening can be addressed by the educational professionals responsible for administration of our schools. The Superintendent also encourages parents and the Princeton community to follow the chain of command and see individual educators directly if there is an issue within a classroom.” 


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