Fort Lee Education Association’s Statement on Upcoming Schedule Changes

The scheduling changes the District is planning to make over the next couple of weeks are not in the best interest of all students and staff. These changes do not make sense academically and do not take into account the overall health and safety of the school community. Specifically, removing remote Wednesdays, will unnecessarily disrupt the most equitable and consistent  teaching day for students at every level. Firstly, remote Wednesdays is the only day that teachers see all their students in the same type of setting. This allows assessments to be delivered to all students at the same time, in the same format and with the same access to teacher assistance. With the new schedule, however, at the middle and high school levels assessments will have to be given to some students on one day and to the rest the next day which allows more time for questions to be shared amongst students, thus further compromising testing integrity. In the elementary schools, assessments in a hybrid setting pose the challenge of assisting in-person students while still monitoring and helping the remote cohort members. Fort Lee’s expert teachers have expressed that administering and monitoring assessments works better on remote days than on hybrid days. 

Secondly, virtual Wednesdays is the only school day that is totally mask free. This allows students to see their teachers’ and their peers’ faces which opens up opportunities for facial expressions or non-verbal communication. Studies have shown that faces can reveal a student’s mood, mental state and whether or not a student is comprehending what is being taught. Masked students’ moods or understandings are not as easily interpreted by teachers. Additionally, when teachers can instruct without a mask, they can place emphasis on certain parts of directions or a lesson to create more interest in learning as well as more understanding of content. Mask free Wednesdays also gives everyone a well needed break and freedom from the COVID safety protocols that have been in place for almost a year. It also puts the focus on implementing instructional activities which cannot happen in a socially distanced classroom or school. Some virtual Wednesday examples include students participating in scavenger hunts, joining breakout rooms to collaborate on a project, celebrating a holiday like Valentine’s Day, singing songs, meeting in small groups for guided reading practice or larger groups for instrument or voice lessons.

Third of all, remote Wednesdays at the middle and high schools allows teachers to see all of their periods in one day. This has some benefits beyond the aforementioned administration of assessments. First, it guarantees that students meet with all of their teachers three times each week. Without virtual Wednesdays, one group of students will only see their teachers twice a week. This is problematic since students tend to get lost without consistent delivery of curriculum and engagement with their instructors. Additionally, moving virtually through all of the periods for shorter times allows students who may not like focusing for an hour on one subject the ability to change to two new ones. Furthermore, the virtual Wednesday schedule in middle and high school most closely mirrors what a pre-COVID school day used to be like, while also preparing students for sudden shifts to full remote learning due to outbreaks in a building. Finally, with the removal of Cohort C at the  middle and high schools, all schools would be on an AA (Monday, Tuesday) and BB (Thursday Friday) schedule, making it less confusing for students and more convenient for parents. 

Logistically, removing virtual Wednesday’s creates childcare issues for a number of staff and poses an undue hardship on them. Currently, many staff have children who are learning remotely on Wednesdays because their child’s school is remote on that day. Up until now teachers have not had to worry about what to do with their children but moving forward they will have to put in for a remote teaching exception due to childcare issues, be forced to pay for childcare or take a leave. These difficult decisions have to be made by elementary teachers with only a week’s notice. Additionally, the overall impact across all schools could create scheduling and staffing issues and seriously disrupt learning. None of those outcomes are necessary, however, especially when there only needs to be a little bit more patience on the part of everyone as the vaccine distribution picks up steam and a sense of normalcy safely returns to our schools. 

In addition to not making academic sense, removing virtual Wednesday’s compromises the overall health and safety of the school community. Students at the middle and high school do not stay in one room all day. They mix with other students and see four to five (and in some cases more) teachers a day. This puts everyone at risk of contracting the virus, especially when students or staff are asymptomatic and unknowingly spread the virus. Remote Wednesday’s takes away one day of multiple moves as well as spread and exposure potentials. Additionally, when cases are discovered in any school, the quarantining of close contacts needs to occur. Having the remote Wednesday has significantly reduced the number of staff and students who have had to quarantine. The CDC recommends contract tracing efforts include the two days prior to symptoms first appearing, and often Wednesday is one of the days counted. As a result, those who are infected have had one less contact day with students or other staff, thus reducing the spread of the virus and making the school community safer. Contract tracing for our nurses has also been less complicated. 

Furthermore, as infections occur, areas that have been exposed to the virus need to be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water and disinfected. The CDC recommends that schools close off locations used by any person who is sick and wait 24 hours before commencing with cleaning and disinfecting. When infections are discovered on Mondays or Tuesdays, Wednesdays are the day when thorough cleaning can happen without the presence of others in the building and with minimal disruptions to a class’s location. This buffer day between students in group A and those in Group B also prevents one group from using a room that has been infected by the other before being thoroughly cleaned. Without the buffer day, classrooms will have to be shut down and students relocated. Many of our buildings do not have extra classrooms or learning locations available every period. This could force a class and teacher to push into another classroom which would put even more students and staff together. 

Ultimately, teachers and staff want to return to full time in-person instruction with students but only when it is safe and it makes sense to do so. At this time, the Fort Lee Education Association believes that removing virtual Wednesdays will adversely affect and disrupt the academic routines that have been established by Fort Lee’s educational professionals in their classrooms, while also further risking the health and safety of the school community.

Cean L. Spahn
Fort Lee Education Association

Adrian Rodriguez
Vice President
Fort Lee Education Association

Howard Lipoff
Fort Lee Education Association

Lorraine Bortnick
Fort Lee Education Association