I’ve been clear — I’m hugely disappointed with the outcomes of the Department of Education. I’m sure they are trying their optimal best, but there are still vacuums of necessity. They’re not meeting those expectations or those challenges.
That’s Senator Teresa Ruiz, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, commenting on the New Jersey Department of Education’s utter failure to not only bridge the digital divide but also to provide oversight and aid to districts struggling to revamp outdated ventilation systems as winter approaches and COVID rates rise.
Carly Sitrin and Samantha Maldonado at Politico reported yesterday that the DOE’s “Road to Recovery” plan “urged district leaders to ‘ensure that their indoor facilities have adequate ventilation,’ but also notes that ‘given budget and funding constraints, it will no doubt be a challenge for many districts to perform the continuous maintenance required to ensure ventilation and heating and cooling systems are working properly.’”
Thank for nothing. No help from the DOE will be forthcoming, and Gov. Murphy confirms there will be no further guidance.
So, Sitrin writes, “faced with a state Department of Education that has merely pointed schools to coronavirus relief funds… New Jersey lawmakers want to tackle these problems by instead turning to the Board of Public Utilities for long-term solutions.”
In preparation, legislators are working to push through two measures they say may help districts cope.
One bill, NJ A4808 (20R) / NJ S3086 (20R), sponsored by Assembly member Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) and Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), would create a new office within the BPU to expand broadband internet access, a crucial element for kids doing remote learning.
Another bill, NJ S3033 (20R), sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) would establish a program within the BPU to help schools and small businesses upgrade their heating, ventilation and airconditioning systems.
Senator Ruiz said her job as a legislator is to “create urgency for [the DOE] to do what they’re supposed to be doing.” That’s a noble goal. While we wait, here’s hoping that the Board of Public Utilities takes up the slack and helps districts upgrade facilities.