Mike La Susa, Superintendent of School District of the Chathams in Morris County, is in a tough spot: His reopening plan still calls for in-district instruction but “if we’re faced with a continuing increase in the number of leave inquiries and potential leaves we could be in a different position a week from now, or ten days from now.”
What does LaSusa regard as a major contributing factor to the uncertainty?
“Not enough planning by the state,” according to Advance Media, which, with schools set to begin the school year in two weeks and teacher leave requests surging, is contributing to districts going all-remote. Another factor? The DOE’s loosy-goosy “guidance,” and former Commissioner Lamont Repollet’s cavalier suggestion to districts that they “get creative.” In other words, the state didn’t have superintendents’ backs, abandoning them to impossible-to-reconcile community concerns. LaSusa explained that because “every district was left to its own devices to open for 180 days of instruction,” a state requirement, “every school district would come up with a different schedule, unless the state dictated or directed in some way what kind of parameters we had to exercise.”
The DOE didn’t. Here’s a typical reaction from superintendents across the state:
LaSusa agrees. “We [superintendents] were begging for some decision-making from our department of education, back in April and May,” he said. “We were most focused on summer programming, especially for our special education learners and our extended school year students, but we were also clamoring for guidance or decision-making about coming back to school, because May and June is usually the time frame when we’re building master schedules, we’re hiring staff, we’re appointing people into positions, we’re ordering what we need to open a school.
He’s not the only one scrambling. A high school in Berkeley Heights switched to all-remote because 17 out of 90 high school teachers requested leave and there aren’t enough substitutes available to fill those slots. Currently 180 districts have filed new reopening plans to go all-remote, almost one-third of all districts in the state.