Trenton School Board Sues Teachers to Force In-School Instruction

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This past Friday the Trenton Board of Education filed a lawsuit in Superior Court of New Jersey because teachers are refusing to appear for the scheduled hybrid in-school instruction schedule, which the Board calls an “illegal labor strike.”

Trenton Public Schools District is the only district in Mercer County still on full-time remote instruction after closing in March 2020. (For a comparison of Trenton’s remote instruction with nearby Princeton’s see here.)

According to theTrentonian, the district serves 12,500 students (although the NJ Department of Education says it serves 14,272 students) and 25% are eligible for special education (although the DOE says it’s 13%).  Most students are low-income and of color. On the most recent state tests, one out of five students were proficient in reading and one out of ten were proficient in math. Thirty percent are chronically-absent, 64% graduate on time, and 42.6% enroll in two or four-year colleges after graduation.

Teachers were supposed to report back on April 19th but that date was moved back to April 22nd so leaders of the Trenton Education Association could do a walk-through of classrooms to confirm that the district, as reported, had spent $10 million on n 15,000 plexiglass shields (one for each desk), 1,500 air purifiers, a million masks, and 50,000 face shields to protect staff. No classroom will have more than 12 students. The district has also hired 75 extra custodians to sanitize rooms. Most teachers are vaccinated.

At that point union leaders objected to having to teach in person while simultaneously checking on students learning remotely.

According to the Trentonian (which has the filing on its website), board attorney James Rolle, Jr. says students have a “right to a thorough and efficient education.” He then citied high rates of absenteeism and failure.

He writes,

The percentage of students failing courses during remote learning has increased despite the Board amending the grading policy so that the lowest possible grade went from 0% to 50%.

The Trenton Board said in a statement,

It is unfortunate that the Association is instructing teachers to undermine the Superintendent’s directive and deny the request of thousands of Trenton parents by derailing the in person learning opportunities for students.

TEA President Talithea Duncan said in a statement,

This action alone shows that the Board continues to operate in bad faith. The Association remains willing to continue to work with the mediator to come to an amicable resolution.

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who participated in the walk-throughs, said yesterday,

We have to get these kids back engaged, back in classrooms, back in socialization .. that they can’t get virtually,” he said. “We’re in danger of losing a whole generation of kids who are losing out on education. I think the health benefits of going back to school outweighs the dangers.

 

 

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