FLEMINGTON, NJ - A new resolution from the Hunterdon Central board of education calling upon the State of New Jersey to prioritize educators and education professionals (teachers and instructional staff) in the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines was unanimously approved.
The state announced on Monday that teachers will be prioritized in the next group to receive the vaccine, beginning March 15.
Prior to the board’s approval, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeffrey Moore explained that although Hunterdon Central has seen a low transmission rate and “a lot of success” while teachers have persisted in delivery of instruction as they’ve awaited vaccine eligibility, and more in-person instruction is scheduled for the immediate future, “we won’t reach and can’t say that we value getting back to normal unless our educators can get the vaccine.”
“Teachers getting the vaccine is certainly something that’s important to all schools and all of us, in attempting to get closer and closer to normalcy,” he added. “We want to continue to advocate for the re-prioritization of the teachers for eligibility, and it’s not quite there. Though we’ve experienced success and feel confident in being able to move forward, we are never going to get there until the COVID vaccine is made more available to our teachers.”
Through Feb. 21, there were 97 student cases of COVID-19 recorded at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, including 14 through the first three weeks of February. In the entire school year, there have been 27 district staff cases of COVID-19, including the additional six cases recorded between Feb. 1 and Feb. 21.
“We are definitely seeing a slowdown, however the new staff COVID cases do include some likely spread between HCRHS staff members on the school campus,” Moore said. “The district does not find any failures in safety protocols (physical distancing, masks, PPE and hand hygiene) that led to the transmission of COVID. People were doing just what we have always asked everyone to do throughout the pandemic. There was no smoking gun in terms of a reason there, but we can’t rule out that as spread, although there is not something specific to point to as a cause, nor do we have any recorded incidents this school year of COVID-19 transmission between students or between staff members and students.”
School board president Vincent Panico explained that the resolution is not unique to the Hunterdon Central Regional High School district.
“This has also been used around the state, and I thank those folks who put it together because it accurately and succinctly puts forward the feelings of many in New Jersey and I would like to read it into the record,” he said.
The resolution defines the “substantial public interest” the board and school district has in protecting the health and safety of its students, staff and community, as well as providing a “safe and effective educational environment that supports student achievement.”
“The federal and state authorities have put in place guidance detailing the precautionary measures schools must implement to stop its spread of this disease; and whereas, public schools have a profound impact on millions of students, families and staff and are charged with the care, education, nourishment of their students and are an integral part of the health and safety of our communities,” the board’s resolution noted.
Also mentioned is how the Hunterdon Central district has responded to challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, “providing students and staff members with the technology and resources necessary to ensure the efficient delivery of instruction, virtually and in-person.”
In his comprehensive COVID-19 update, Moore said there needs to be “continued vigilance” among Hunterdon Central and the larger Flemington Borough, Raritan Township and Readington Township areas, as there are community spread COVID-19 cases linked to social gatherings and other events. In January, in the few weeks immediately following schools’ holiday breaks, a spike of COVID cases did occur in most districts within the region and beyond.
“If we start to see a spike in COVID cases at Central, even if the New Jersey Central West region (Hunterdon County, Mercer County and Somerset County) is in good shape, then we may find ourselves having to retreat back to hybrid, Group 1/Group 2 instruction or, depending on the scenario, and we’ve been very fortunate to not have to resort to it, the potential would exist for extending to virtual instruction only,” he said. “We have not had to do this at all this year, and it’s a testament to all the precautions and good work that our students, parents and staff are doing.”
He added that the district, in its plan to reopen and offer four half-day instructional days per week at Hunterdon Central starting this month, stands on its record “that shows success in our efforts to mitigate COVID-19 spread on campus.”
The district will also continue to offer a two-day hybrid program and a full remote program.