Our community has many questions about schools and the pandemic – our members do too. In an effort to create a resource for the community, the HEA has made this form so members of the community can submit questions. 

Questions that can be addressed by our Reps or Health & Safety Committee will be posted with a response. Those that should be answered by the administration or Board of Education will be forwarded to them and a response will be posted as soon as it is received.

We all share the same goal of returning to “normal” as soon, and as safely, as possible and clear communication is key. We appreciate our community sharing in this goal and seeking the “Best for BORO”.

Click Here to Submit a Question


Questions and Answers

  1. Have staff been accommodated if they have medical concerns or in the high risk category?
    1. No staff members have been granted accommodations beyond what is normally provided staff – i.e. sanitizer, shields, hand washing, etc. In many cases, this was well below what was specified by their doctors. Any high risk staff member who requested a virtual accommodation, even with all virtual students, was denied this request. 
  2. What would increase the feeling of safety in the buildings?
    1. The HEA has proposed increased testing opportunities to regularly screen for asymptomatic cases. Many private institutions have testing as a condition of enrollment. In some instances, onsite testing can be offered at low/no cost to the district or member. 
    2. Revisiting staff accommodation requests. 
    3. Increasing indoor air quality though the use of air purifiers and ensuring that all units are properly functioning. 
    4. Allowing staff time to receive a vaccination without loss of pay/days.
    5. Pursuing the needed actions to become a vaccination site for staff, when the supply is available.
    6. Revisiting the reopening plan and collaboratively updating it so it addresses current conditions.
  3. Are there still HVAC/ventilation concerns?
    1. Yes. The referendum addressed many HVAC issues, but more still exist. We currently have classrooms with no windows and poor ventilation. Some units are still improperly functioning or cannot function due to the control system currently in place.
    2. Exterior doors to classrooms cannot be opened to increase ventilation for security reasons, but windows can. In some cases this creates frigid conditions in the classroom as the unit does not function or cannot offset the outside temperature with the windows open. In other classrooms, windows are nonexistent or do not open much. 
  4. When will potential plans for September 2021, no matter what they might be, begin to be discussed/shared with the public? At what point will a definitive decision for Sept 2021 be made (estimated date)?
    1. We have not been asked to engage in these conversations or planning, so unfortunately, we do not know the tentative dates for plans to be shared. The question will be referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given. 
  5. How can we get pre-K-4th grade students into the school for more in person time? What needs to be done for this?
    1. Based upon current trends and guidance, the mixing of cohorts is difficult, if not prohibitive, so increasing the number of students in a classroom safely is at this time still questionable. County rates are currently trending downward and hopefully will continue to do so, but that could depend upon community decisions and the impact of new Covid-19 variants. 
  6. Why are the elementary school playgrounds still fenced off? I understand that students are not utilizing them during school hours but is there a legal reason that parents are not able to use them on the weekends with appropriate Covid precautions? 
    1. Originally, the NJ Road Back guidance specified that school’s playground equipment should be sanitized if it is used. This may still be in effect or have no bearing on the decision to close school playgrounds, but the question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given. 
  7. Is it possible to set up staggered times/schedules throughout the day?
    1. Most districts have avoided staggered schedules as it is difficult to have one group of students leave and clean the facility before another group arrives. Transportation also makes it difficult to do so. Some districts have considered staggered weekly schedules – i.e. Cohort A is in person for 4 days 1 week, while Cohort B is all virtual. Then a switch is made. Responses have been mixed on this approach. 
  8. If the BOE has in fact received the approval from the state to reopen schools and have followed the regulations and recommendations from experts in the area of the pandemic why is HEA at such odds with BOE? 
    1. Reopening plans were “approved” by the county and required the submission of a checklist. In District Reopening Committee meetings, there was not true representation of employees or the HEA as recommended by the state. In reality, only two HEA Officers were permitted to attend and contribute as regular members of the DRC. HEA Officers are highly trained in areas like health and safety, classroom management and logistics. All offers to assist were denied. With that in mind, there are still areas that are “approved” but lacking or in need of refinement to address the current conditions – please see Questions 2 and 3. 
  9. It seems to me personally that no matter what BOE does in regards to school HEA takes an exact opposite stance and becomes argumentative with them. In most cases causing the BOE to become argumentative back. Or vice versa.
    1. The HEA has repeatedly offered to collaboratively address the needs of our district and continues to do so. This can be easily seen in BOE meetings during public comment. Further, the HEA has reminded the BOE and administration that we are part of the Rutgers Labor Management Collaborative, which has been shown to decrease tension and increase positive educational outcomes. We have publicly and repeatedly asked them to re-engage in this model. 
  10. I see the post often “only when it’s safe.” If it has been determined by the experts that it is in fact safe why is that not good enough?
    1. The situation is changing rapidly and science is struggling to catch up. Much of the data used by the CDC is reliant upon controlled settings with limited numbers of students, such as rural schools in Wisconsin. Given the number of accommodation denials for members who are high risk, “safe” is not a term that can be used to define the entire situation. Please see Question 2.
  11. I see many posts by the HEA / it’s members about the lack of transparency from the BOE. Has there been a lack of transparency in something specific that they are legally required to provide to the HEA? Or is the HEA simply taking the stance that they are not happy with what they have been provided irregardless of whether they are actually entitled to it or not? 
    1. As shared with the community, there were numerous OPRA requests related to reopening plans, ventilation and the conditions in buildings. These were filled in some form, but not completely. Further, the updated reports that were agreed to at a BOE meeting have not been provided. 
  12. For BOE – Have you provided all documentation etc to the HEA that you are legally required to?
    1. The question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given. 
  13. For BOE – Through the course of the reopening of school to hybrid have all guidelines provided from the state and other “experts” surrounding the pandemic been followed? It is my understanding that the state had to approve opening of individual school districts, was that approval received or were the schools opened without it?
    1. The question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given. 
  14. For BOE – Is there a plan or committee in place to move to a more “full” schedule even if it is not 5 full days? If so is that plan being put in place within the guidelines set forth by the state and their experts as well as experts on the local level?
    1. At the recent BOE meeting, President Trujillo announced the formation of an ad hoc Board Reopening Committee to discuss plans. We applaud this step and look forward to collaboratively addressing the needs of our district. 
    2. The question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given.
  15. When will hybrid students be allowed to use certain equipment in classes, such as microscopes etc. Microscopes, dissection instruments, wood shop equipment etc can all be wiped between students so there is no reason why it can’t and shouldn’t be used. There are many classes that kids take for the hands on experience and they are not able to get it because these items “can’t be touched”. At least 100 people touch the door handle to come into school then there is no reason they can’t use the school equipment and wipe down between student use.
    1. Current guidance from the NJDOH suggests limiting the use of shared materials and states:

    The more people a person interacts with, the closer the physical interaction, the more sharing of supplies or equipment there is by multiple people, and the longer the duration of that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. 

    Limit Use of Shared Supplies and Equipment

    • Ensure adequate supplies (i.e. art supplies, equipment) to minimize sharing of high- touch materials or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of students at a time and clean and disinfect between use.
    • Avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books, games or other learning aids. If items must be shared, clean and disinfect between uses.
    • Discontinue use of shared items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected.
    1. High touch areas, like door handles, should be frequently cleaned throughout the day per NJDOH guidance. 
  16. I heard South Brunswick School District arranged for their teachers to get the vaccine. Is this something Hillsborough is looking into?
    1. The HEA urged the district to take steps to increase staff access to the vaccine. No formal action was taken. 
    2. A number of districts in Somerset County were in the process of being approved to distribute vaccines to staff, but were recently contacted by the NJDOH and told it could not happen at this time due to limited supply. We still believe this should be investigated so it can be pursued when the supply is available. 
  17. In response to some previous answers advocating for teachers being tested in the schools, why just teachers? Are you/ shouldn’t you be advocating for all human bodies entering those buildings (students, custodial staff, etc) to be tested as well? Otherwise what’s the point? Just curious.
    1. Thank you for asking this clarifying question. The HEA is an all-inclusive local, meaning we represent most employees within the district – including transportation, B&G, IAs, Secretaries, Clerks, Lunch Aides and Custodians. The term “educator” is used universally for all our members as they all play an important role in ensuring the educational success of our students, so any request for access to testing would apply to them as well. 
    2. With regards to students, increasing access to testing would help to identify asymptomatic cases and/or help to return students to school quicker when there is suspected exposure. We support offering this as well, but respect that this is a decision individual to each family and therefore cannot be mandated. Some districts have asked parents to sign a release form permitting random testing when a child receives in-person instruction. The CDC has also issued guidance regarding in-school testing.  
  18. For the BOE but would like to also hear the Union’s take- We are told that the capacity limits are only reached by cohort models in the lower grades (k-4). If these same capacity limits continue into the fall, is there something preventing us from repurposing space going unused (or barely used) in the other schools (ARIS, MS, HS) to enable the kids who want/ whose parents want them to be in school to do so more frequently? It seems silly to prevent elementary from coming in 5 days a week while other spaces in district have classes with 1 student…..
    1. This is certainly an interesting idea and would need to take into consideration DOH guidelines, facility space and transportation.  During DRC meetings, the HEA proposed various alternatives to spacing, child care and facility needs – none were included in the final plan. The HEA has been advocating for increased collaboration and a revisiting of the Road Back plan that includes all stakeholders.  Many other districts have continued meetings with their DRC to adapt and make changes to their plans as the school year progressed and the situation with the pandemic has changed.  The Hillsborough DRC has been stagnant since August.  The HEA continues to advocate for more engagement to discuss ideas such as this.  A collaborative discussion could investigate a number of ideas.
    2. The question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given. 
  19. Is there an opportunity for kindergarten students to move to 2 hybrid mornings?
    1. The question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given.
  20. It has been said at BOE meetings that 70% of teachers requested accommodations to work from home in September due to CDC listed comorbidities. Can you explain further as this has not really been addressed in board meetings.
    1. 70% of staff may have requested some form of accommodation, which included a mask, hand sanitizer, gloves, shields, etc. Approximately 10% of staff requested virtual accommodations due to comorbidities. This statistic aligns to similarly sized districts that successfully accommodated virtual requests for staff members who had medically documented comorbidities on the CDC list.
  21. How many teachers were granted work from home accommodations?
    1. The district denied all work from home accommodations, excluding one.
  22. For the BOE: Funding from the Federal government is most likely on its way with the proposed Covid Relief bill. Is the BOE proactively planning the use of potential funds as I am sure plans for usage of funds will need to be laid out in detail and approved? I feel the biggest issue facing the district is space. Will plans include increasing the square footage of each classroom. (i.e. Take out walls when able to make 2 classrooms 1, and then expand the buildings. The goal being larger classrooms, not more classrooms, so we don’t need more teachers. ) Since we needed more space before the pandemic, it seems like a good investment regardless. I think second to the space issue is ventilation. Would funds to evaluate the HVAC systems and upgrade as needed be critical?
    1. The question has been referred to the BOE/administration and updated when a response is given.