Keep Rutherford Schools Open!
Editorial submitted by Stephanie Wierzbicki Mearizo
Dear Rutherford Parents and Concerned Citizens,
Like many of you, I have been frustrated with the constant shut down of our Rutherford schools due to possible Covid exposures. These excessive quarantines have been unnecessary! Students receiving quarantine letters have been held back from participating in sports and social activities for 14 days. Not because they have been exposed to a primary contact, but just merely being in the same classroom as a person who tested positive. In fact, as was mentioned at the Board meeting on April 5th and cited in the Resolution that passed (click here to view), they have quarantined nearly 1,000 students and teachers district-wide this year, and not one person quarantined has gotten ill! At what cost has this been to our children?
Why is the Bergen County Department of Health (BCDOH) not considering the detrimental effects of these unnecessary quarantines on our children’s well-being, the long-term effects on their mental health, education, and achievement, and also the disadvantage to students with disabilities?
Why should our schools force remote learning for 14 days, sports canceled, and family schedules turned upside down? I had to question why this keeps happening. Our students and teachers are following their required precautionary measures. Wearing masks, social distancing in class, and sanitizing the facilities, yet they are still being forced to quarantine even when they are not a primary contact of a Covid positive person in the class. I dug a little deeper and was shocked by what I learned. It is not our Board of Education or Superintendent shutting us down, it is the BCDOH imposing these unjustifiably stringent guidelines.
These guidelines being imposed on our district DO NOT follow
the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) or CDC guidelines.
In the guidelines from the NJDOH and the CDC, it states that these are “guidelines” and they can be modified by the local Department of Health. The Rutherford Board of Health is our district’s point of contact, however, they are not an autonomous organization but more of a satellite office. Rutherford is governed by the Bergen County Department of Health who oversees 36 out of the 70 municipalities in Bergen County. To my surprise, I learned that not all of the districts in Bergen County are governed the same way as Rutherford, or consistently with the NJDOH guidelines for that matter. The BCDOH, which oversees us, has been unique state-wide in treating schools differently than they treat other organizations and individuals. They "advise" that anyone who had any contact with a positive person be quarantined. While they do not tell the BOE to close schools, they do tell them to quarantine any teacher and class who had any contact with a positive case. They are not considering “contact” to be what the NJDOH and the CDC define as primary contact, which is within 6 feet for 15 min or longer within a 24- hour period. Instead, the BCDOH considers “contact” being in the same classroom, even if adhering to wearing masks, social distancing and timeframes.
As an example, in the High School, Union and Pierrepont Schools where a student sees 7 to 10 teachers a day, the schools have to quarantine 7 to 10 teachers for 14 days. Mr. Hurley has explained this ripple effect in an email to all parents weeks ago. The administrators and supervisors exhaust every possible option trying to figure out how to staff the nearly 40 classes a day that would need to be covered to avoid shutting down, but it is impossible so our schools have to close.
Many of our neighboring towns, like East Rutherford, Carlstadt, Wallington, and Hoboken to name a few, have been able to remain open because they are following the NJDOH guidelines. Contact tracing is done and only the true exposures and primary contacts are quarantined, not whole classes if they do not fit the criterion. The guidelines being imposed on Rutherford by BCDOH are different than other towns. Many towns are being allowed to follow the NJDOH guidelines overseen by their local health department. If there was one child who tested positive in a class at Becton High School for example, only primary contacts would be quarantined, not the whole class and schools would remain open.
Data from schools locally, regionally, nationally and globally have shown that schools are not a significant source of spread. We have evidence to support that Covid is not being spread in our schools. Since September our district has had zero transmissions to the students and teachers that were quarantined. Moreover, districts following the NJDOH guidelines (and only quarantining those who were legitimate primary contacts) have been successful at minimizing transmission and stopping outbreaks while simultaneously keeping schools open.
After speaking with the head of our local health Department, Mr. O’Keefe, Superintendent, Mr. Hurley, and clarifying the facts at the end of March, I believe the Rutherford Board of Education needs our help and support. Our children need our help. This has to stop, the damage being done to our kids from not attending school in person consistently, being forced to quarantine, forgo sports and social activities is having effects on them we can’t fully understand yet. So I asked myself, what as parents can we do to stop this roller coaster for our children. I wanted to let other folks know in our community what was really going on, but I was not sure exactly how. I initially thought of a petition, but wanted to be sure I was straight on all of my facts. I recently responded to a post of a dear friend on Facebook who was frustrated, and like many parents in town, thought the quarantines were an overreaction or act of being overly cautious on the part of the BOE. That was the springboard for me to write and share this information I had learned. After talking with Mr. Hurley at length, I believe the administration and the BOE have been working tirelessly to keep our schools open. They are doing everything they can in their power, yet their hands are tied. Rutherford is being forced to follow the more restrictive rules being imposed upon us by the BCBOH, we are not aligned with the NJDOH.
Along with my friend, Lucie Pospichalova, who is also an educator and concerned parent like myself, we have put together a petition that we hope all parents in our community will be willing to sign. Additionally, we hope this petition finds its way to the other 35 communities within Bergen County who are also being forced to follow these more restrictive guidelines.
After reading the resolution passed at the BOE meeting on April 5th, I see that our district has asked the BCDOH for consistency in rules for the entire county and for them to reevaluate their interpretation of the guidelines. The state association has also met with representatives from the governor’s office about the inconsistency in Bergen County.
Here is what we can do as concerned parents in our community:
1. Sign and share this petition to the BCDOH: Click Here
This is also being sent to the New Jersey Department of Health demanding that the BCDOH modify their close contact guidelines by using evidence-based recommendations in line with the CDC and the NJDOH in order to limit the unnecessary school closures in our community.
2. Reach out to the Communicable Disease Manager at the BCDOH:
Amy Monaco (201) 634-2657 or AMonaco@co.bergen.nj.us
Express your concerns about how these unnecessarily restrictive guidelines
have been affecting your child.
Ask that the BCDOH follow the recommendations as written by the NJDOH.
3. Contact Hansel F. Asmar, Director/ Health Officer at the BCDOH (201) 634-2601
or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Contact our local legislature, Bergen County Executive Mr. James Tedesco at email@example.com and Governor Murphy using this link https://www.nj.gov/governor/contact/all and express your concerns.
5. Share this information with others.