Teacher turns to GoFundMe to buy protective equipment

Antoinette Blaustein considered it a given that if the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District was planning to open its two high schools then surely it would supply personal protective equipment to teachers and staff. But, the math teacher of 23 years learned the district had ‘subtracted’ that from the reopening equation.

“Honestly, I was a little confused because traditionally my district has always prioritized the safety of staff and students. Our building is very secure. They’ve invested a lot of money in cameras. They’ve invested money in bulletproof glass. All of those things that keep a school safe. But, yet they weren’t will in to invest money, or take the time to try to figure out how to get us masks, which are the frontline to defending us against the virus,” she said.

Blaustein set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of collecting $5,000. Her campaign caught the attention of donors and mask-maker Boomer Naturals.

The company donated a four-month supply of washable masks — two for each teacher, teacher assistant, secretary and custodian. In all, 640 masks, with each able to be washed 30 times. Blaustein says the generosity has allowed her to meet another concern.

“A lot of our staff members were asking we would like to wear a mask and a face shield,” Blaustein said.

The president of the local teachers’ union sits on the district’s reopening committee. He says the administration explained the issue is money, but that doesn’t absolve the district of its responsibility.

“We’re legally required to have masks at school, so at this point it’s as important as anything else we need to start the school year,” said Stephen Halldorson, president of the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Education Association.

In a statement, a district spokesperson said, “Due to limited supply chain of masks, we cannot commit to providing masks for every employee at this time” or to students. But, she says, the district is working on getting masks by the time school reopens Aug. 27.

For now, Blaustein’s learned a big lesson: keeping her fellow teachers safe is up to her and the onus for protective equipment fundraising is part of her school planning.

“As of today, no one from district office or from the administration has reached out to me. I’m just doing what’s best for our members,” she said.