In my experience, school superintendents are gracious and diplomatic when faced with hardships, whether dealt unexpected cuts in state aid, new regulations, or community uproars. Oh, they may vent in private but their public remarks are even-handed, focused on solutions and compromises. And they hardly ever ding a politician.
Judging by Twitter, they’ve reached their breaking point as Gov. Phil Murphy –seemingly by the day—changes rules for reopening schools.
First every student had to have some version of in-school instruction. Then every district had to offer every family full-time remote instruction while keeping schools open, regardless of how many children would actually show up. Then, this past Wednesday, Murphy said schools could open all-remote, with the codicil that each district planning to do so would have to show the state Department of Education the reasons why they can’t offer in-person classes, what they are doing to solve those problems, and when exactly they’ll open school buildings. He also —and this is important—left vague what liability the district would shoulder if students or teachers caught the coronavirus while requiring that all superintendents sign an attestation promising safety.
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrator, the association that represents superintendents, said, “[t]here’s legislation that has been out there for colleges and universities to protect them. We believe schools should be included in that. The last thing we want to see is all that hard work, to do all of the things that are required to make (schools) safe end up in litigation.”
Murphy’s reply to this logical concern? “You heard our principles [in his administration’s decision-making]: health and safety, high-quality education, equity, and flexibility. Liability was not on the list.”
(There is an Assembly bill, proposed by Christopher DePhillips (R-Bergen), that would grant immunity to school districts if anyone catches COVID-19 but the NJ School Boards Association says “this bill does not grant immunity to any school district, nonpublic school, or person causing damage by his willful, wanton, or grossly negligent acts of commission or omission.” The bill is in its early stages. One other note: Lakewood attorney Michael Inzelbuch announced at the district’s public meeting this week that during the during the summer Extended Year Program, held in buildings with all precautions, a teacher was diagnosed with coronavirus.)
Back to Twitter-land. Here are some public comments made by our cadre of traditionally restrained New Jersey superintendents.