Letter From Lakewood Attorney to Union Reps Re: Teacher Requests for Remote Instruction

This is a letter from Lakewood School Board attorney Michael Inzelbuch, sent last night to Jennifer Raike, who represents Ocean County local teacher unions, and  Keith Waldman, an attorney with Selikoff & Cohen who represents the Lakewood Education Association and the New Jersey Education Association. Inzelbucch is responding to LEA’s request for a compromise between union members’ health concerns (see here) and district demands that students attend school 5 days a week for full days. (In May Selikoff & Cohen, on behalf of NJEA and LEA, sent a 7-page “cease and desist” letter to Inzelbuch and the Lakewood School Board because the district was conducting in-person evaluations during school lockdowns. For more on the latter and a copy of the “cease and desist” letter, see here.)

From: Michael Inzelbuch <[email protected]>
Sent: Sunday, August 30, 2020 6:54 PM
To: ‘Jennifer Raike’; Keith Waldman
Cc: Michael Inzelbuch; Laura Winters; Moshe Bender; BOE members; Brent R. Pohlman; David Shafter; Ahearn, Kevin; [email protected]; Daniel Regenye; [email protected]; Platkin, Matthew
Subject: Lakewood BOE 

Sunday , August 30, 2020

Thank you for meeting with the Board representatives earlier today and providing your requests, albeit most belated,  regarding the educational programing for beginning of the 2020/2021 school year.

The District will make all efforts to provide you the additional information requested only this afternoon.  I again request that you immediately make available the Union’s industrial hygienist, Allen Barkkune, whom you indicated was not available as it was a Sunday, the very day that we were all working and the very day that for the first time we received specific requests ,as opposed to grandstanding  and/or months of silence  .  

As indicated during the call the Administration continues to promptly review all outstanding ADA/NJLAD accommodation requests.  As the Superintendent advised, some of those teachers may be eligible, after completing the fitness for duty evaluation  and pending their holding the appropriate certifications, for in building remote teaching assignments in isolated classrooms. 

With respect to the schedule, the Board  and Administration cannot support a hybrid program of 4 hours per day in person “A” and “B” schedule across the entire district with one hour per day of home instruction after travelling home  to begin the school year, especially at this late date .   

This correspondence shall also reflect that you rejected any consideration of a hybrid program as to the Middle School that all have always acknowledged for several years is growing at “leaps and bounds “ due to a most dynamic program thanks to our Superintendent,  building Administration,  and staff, the innovative and extensive programing provided to English Language Learners (ELL), as well as special education students, many of whom, in my opinion  for the first time in recent history, have received  truly appropriate and diverse programming in the least restrictive environment .  

There a number of  additional factors why the Board and Administration cannot support this option at this time. 

First and foremost, our most  positive in – person educational experience of the ESY program , the summer recreation program, the in person evaluations, 1:1 therapies and instruction for our most needy students despite the LEA’s attempt, albeit failed, to torpedo same  etc.  have demonstrated ,in fact , that “it can be done.”    

Another reason is that the District has undertaken significant efforts and expended a significant amount of resources to mitigate many issues presented by COVID .

As you are aware , the District’s Plan satisfies the State requirements and has been reviewed by the County ,the Lakewood Police, and the Ocean County Health Department , and various national experts  .

In addition , the  voluntary and extensive COVID-19 testing that has been completed  by the District to date demonstrates that our student population’s infection/positive rate is far below the acceptable standard.  When we consider these facts in light of the benefits of in-person education against the detriments to remote learning the scales weight heavily in in-person education. 

Next the Board must consider its ability to meeting the Governor’s requirement that remote learners receive at minimum of four (4) hours of virtual instruction per day.   Despite ordering additional laptops almost three (3) months ago the District still does not have enough laptops for students to have one to one use, which would mean that on remote days many students would be receiving the required education. 

An additional limiting factor is transportation. Specifically, I have been advised that the District  also does not have enough buses or drivers to put all schools on a four (4) hour per day program as was suggested for the first time today . 

Additionally, the Board has an obligation to consider the characteristics of its community.  Many of the parents of our students must continue to work one or more jobs in order to pay their bills.  They cannot be home with the students, which is of concern especially for younger students. Further, our educational professionals have advised the Board that remote education is particularly harmful to non-English speaking students, and serves to widen the education gap. Lastly, as you are aware less than approximately 7-8% of our cherished public school student families have opted for remote instruction.  

The Board understands that this is an evolving situation and the Board and District are ready to respond and adapt to any situation that arises with G-d’s help , and will continue to communicate with the LEA as well as all other stakeholders.   

Michael I Inzelbuch

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