Town hall discusses back to school

Joining East Orange Mayor Ted Green, bottom, for another Facebook Live virtual town hall were guests, top row, from left, sign language interpreter Audrey Joubert, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Deborah Harvest and Director of Special Education Tonya Santos; and middle row, from left, East Orange Department of Health and Human Services Director Monique Griffin, Superintendent of Schools AbdulSaleem Hasan and East Orange Health Officer Victor Kuteyi.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — Returning for another virtual town hall on Feb. 10, East Orange Mayor Ted Green welcomed guests East Orange Superintendent of Schools AbdulSaleem Hasan, Assistant Superintendent Deborah Harvest, Special Education Director Tonya Santos, East Orange Department of Health and Human Services Director Monique Griffin, and East Orange Health Officer Victor Kuteyi to join him for a discussion about the COVID-19 vaccine and the school district.

During the meeting, in-person learning, district plans for regular COVID-19 testing of staff and students, and community notifications of positive tests were hot topics.

“Once school is back in session. We don’t have it on policy where we’re going to require staff to do testing, because, as you know, testing is only good for that point in time,” Harvest said at the meeting. “But we will be steadily monitoring staff and students throughout the whole process, and we will also make sure that we can provide them with places that they can visit in order to be tested.”

According to Hasan, the East Orange School District is closely examining state COVID trends, as well as how other districts are handling these issues.

“Just to share some data of what drives our decisions, per the state of New Jersey website, the current positivity rate for northern New Jersey was 13 percent, and the overall positivity rate for New Jersey was 13.6 percent,” Hasan said. “Given the current positive rate in relation to the matrix for a safe reopening, we have extended the reopening for remote learning to April 12.

“Currently, Newark School District is also April 12, Jersey City is April 21, New Brunswick is also April 12, Elizabeth is also April 12, as well as Roselle being April 19 — just to name a few school districts who have also extended their dates due to concerns about opening schools,” he continued. “The superintendents in Essex County have signed a joint letter to submit to the governor just to address the vaccinations to prioritize educators. We’ve had educators who want to get back to work, but they’re concerned about their safety and they want to get the vaccination.”

Hasan shared that the district is in “constant communication” with the reentry team.
“I’ve also visited other schools and spoken to many superintendents who did open their schools in a hybrid,” he said. “We are waiting for President Biden, who will be sending out his new updated reentry plans for schools, which is a national plan, and we will adjust our handbook accordingly.”

According to Harvest, there are three teams working on the district’s reentry plan: one team each for the elementary, middle and high school levels.

“We understand that, coming from the central office level and at school levels, there may be some things that we may not have thought about in the schools. So therefore, we have engaged our leaders, our principals, with working on committees to help us come up with anything we might need in the schools so that there is a safe transition back into the school.

“Our nurses are phenomenal,” she continued, adding that they “have all been trained in contact tracing with the Johns Hopkins program so every nurse has a certificate. We are working to make sure that we can get the information out once students come back into school, but it really takes a whole community to do this.”

Harvest stressed the importance of the community communicating with the district as well, such as letting the district know if someone is sick in the home.

Green spoke about the importance of community members becoming vaccinated when they are able.
“You can’t make people get vaccinated,” Green said. “The only thing we can do is continue to provide the information, resources and follow the science. But it is a task. I do my best to try and make sure weekly and daily that we are receiving the right information.”