Unlike teacher union leaders in Montclair and South Orange-Maplewood that deftly outmaneuver their districts and keep schools closed, the Lakewood Education Association (LEA) has no clout. Instead, the School Board’s priority is non-public students who attend ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, with 6,500 Hispanic low-income students an afterthought. That goes for their teachers as well: As Mark Weber astutely points out in a post about Lakewood, “educators will be disrespected in a community that does not support its public schools.”
That is why the Lakewood Public Schools District opened its doors to full-time, in-person instruction on July 6th.* And that is why 131 teachers and staff had been sickened by the coronavirus since schools opened, or one out of every seven Lakewood staff members.
The Asbury Park Press reports that Gov. Phil Murphy says he’ll visit Lakewood “sooner rather than later,” especially after 8 teachers at Ella G. Clarke Elementary School were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week and 4 were hospitalized “with serious complications.” Lakewood “has concerned us,” he said at a coronavirus briefing this week.
That’s good news for LEA; its president Kimberlee Shaw said she wrote a letter to Murphy last week, so maybe he’s paying attention. She told the Press,
The district has been putting us in harm’s way since the first day of school with no regard for our safety. That’s evident by their refusal to switch to virtual learning in a building where eight staff members have tested positive, four of which have had to be hospitalized…Keeping schools open is more important to the district than the lives and health of its staff and students.
Last week the Lakewood Scoop (a site for the ultra-Orthodox community) quoted district attorney Michael Inzelbuch, who said the 8 teachers at Ella Clarke got COVID by going out to a restaurant together. Shaw said, “that was a lie,” and only two teachers had dinner together, with one showing symptoms a week later.
Last September, after the district withheld information about an infected student, Amy Lawrie, a first grade teacher at Lakewood’s Spruce Street School, said,
I am in the room all day and it is a lack of concern for the teachers and the students. We are packed in there and there is not enough room to social distance. Kids take their masks off twice a day to eat, they eat in the classroom, I don’t know if that’s safe or not and they want us to come back to work.
Despite the diagnosis of the 8 teachers with COVID-19 who all teach at Ella Clarke Elementary School, that school and the district are open for full-time in-school instruction.