Teaneck parents protest after district announces virtual plan

Mom Rachel Secemski is angry because Teaneck has now joined the ranks of dozens of school districts planning to go completely virtual this fall after Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement last week allowing districts to do so if they’re unable to meet safety standards.

“Originally Teaneck was going to be four days in person for special ed, which we were very happy about because he really has had no live instruction from his teacher since March,” Secemski said.

The Department of Education is aware of a 139 districts so far that want an all-remote start.

“Brady has a very small class. He has seven kids in his class total, and that’s first and second grade combined. So we made the point that we don’t understand why his class, or special education in general, which is small class sizes, can’t be in person since remote learning is so difficult for them,” she said.

In a statement, the district said, “This decision was made out of an abundance of caution, with the health and safety of our students and staff as our top priority. Teaneck was the epicenter of COVID-19 in New Jersey (back in March and April) and we heard from many families and staff members who did not feel safe returning to school this fall.”

But the Secemskis are not among them. They have three other kids, one going to private high school full time, and two preschoolers who’ll now have to go to private school, which is something they didn’t budget for. They want their son Brady placed in another town’s district that is open. Rachel is a health care worker, and even though her husband Gabriel is working from home now, he can’t oversee Brady’s classes that include occupational and physical therapy.

The Secemskis are not alone. A recent survey from SmartestDollar found that 41% of households in New Jersey with kids under 14 may not have a parent at home to watch them when school starts.

“Now you’re going all virtual. We know there are children this did not work for at all. There are also children that need to be in school more than they need to be at home,” said mom of four, Deborah Blaiberg.

Blaiberg started a parent protest this week when she heard the news. A similar protest was held in Scotch Plains when the district reversed course on its hybrid plan. But Blaiberg says Teaneck shifted so quickly that she doesn’t believe they ever intended to open.

“In New Jersey, with the way the numbers are, we should be finding a way to open up the schools,” she said.

Teaneck’s Board of Education will vote on the virtual plan Aug. 26. They have provided Chromebooks to every student in the district. They plan to reassess their model after the first marking period.