Springfield BOE discusses rise in COVID-19 cases during reorganization meeting

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SPRINGFIELD, NJ — At the Springfield Board of Education reorganization meeting on Monday, Jan. 3, streamed live for the public from the Halsey Hall Auditorium of Jonathan Dayton High School, the results of the recent BOE election for three open seats were read. Paula Saha got 2,418 votes, Hector Munoz got 2,087 votes, Yelena Zolotarsky got 1,869 votes, Anderson Blair got 1,869 votes and Zunilda Elizabeth Benjamin got 1,790 votes. The total number of registered voters was 12,932; 5,870 votes were cast.

Saha and Munoz were sworn in as board members. Zolotarsky wasn’t, however, because, according to board attorney Vito Gagliardi Jr., board members have to go through a background process and be cleared by the NJ Department of Education; according to existing laws, new members cannot be sworn in by the BOE until they are cleared by the NJDOE. Although she wasn’t officially sworn in yet, Zolotarsky was seated with the board and will be at the next board meeting.

Scott Silverstein was then nominated and elected to be the Springfield Board of Education president. Saha was elected vice president of the board, and Munoz was appointed as a representative of the Springfield School District to serve on the Union County Educational Services Commission’s Representative Assembly.

Later in the meeting, Springfield Superintendent of Schools Rachel Goldberg explained that the district is working extremely hard to keep children in school, despite the omicron surge, and spoke of the current COVID-19 guidance in schools.

“I just wanted to give a brief update on what’s happening. As you know, throughout the state of New Jersey, the number of COVID cases has been incredibly high over the last couple of weeks,” Goldberg said during the meeting. “We are working very hard to keep kids in school at some level of personal instruction. We value it deeply. One of our challenges has been and continues to be, how do we maintain our minimized risk during periods of time when students are unmasked, and how do we help manage possible staffing shortages. So, we’re dealing with those two things simultaneously.

“As you may have noted in communication that was sent over this weekend, we created a form for families to provide updates on students who would be absent due to COVID-related absences, and, since then, we have a little over 200 students that have been identified as being absent for COVID-related reasons, including symptoms, positive tests and what we’ve added in an updated version … close contact,” she continued.

The superintendent said it was part of their job to keep students and staff safe, including protecting their mental health, so she felt providing in-person access was critical. She addressed the changing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NJ Department of Health, admitting that, while the CDC did create a shorter quarantine timeline for individuals identified as positive, that guidance was not approved for schools.

“Right now, we are still utilizing the same guidelines that we did right before break, which is, individuals that test positive are to be quarantined or not come to school functionally for 10 days and can return on day 11,” said Goldberg. “There’s no positive or negative test required for that. It’s simply a time frame. For individuals that are not vaccinated that are close contacts, those individuals will have to be quarantined or excluded from school for a minimum of seven days. If they test negative between days five and seven, then they may return on day eight and, if they choose to not test, they may return after day 10. That’s our current guidance right now that has been given by the NJ Department of Health.”

Silverstein said he sympathized with parents during these difficult times.

“For the members of the public, you heard the thought process that Dr. Goldberg and the administration go through, not only day by day, but hour by hour, sometimes trying to figure out exactly where things are in terms of staffing levels, positivity levels and absence levels,” Silverstein said during the meeting. “It’s difficult, and I (identify) with parents who are frustrated. Maybe you don’t get the communications as early in the day as you’d like or (you’re) frustrated that you’re hearing different things from different state aid departments and the CDC. Know that we share your frustration. It makes it equally frustrating for the administration to try to patch those different pieces of guidance, all of which are trying to keep everyone safe, but they don’t all necessarily match up with each other.

“So, know that the administration is doing everything that they can to keep kids in school, to keep our kids and our staff safe, and that they’ll continue to do that as we move forward,” he continued. “We can only control the things that we can, and those things are, as Dr. Goldberg said, if your child is exhibiting any symptoms — even if you think it’s just a cold — chances are right now, it may not just be a cold. Please keep them home. The FDA approved booster shots for 12- to 15-year-olds today for Pfizer. The more people we get vaccinated, hopefully, it’ll be fewer people who get seriously ill.”