Penns Grove-Carneys Point teachers ask to start virtual citing unsafe conditions

SALEM COUNTY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Employees of a Salem County school district are asking to start the year virtually, saying they feel unsafe going back into the schools five days a week.

Members of the Penns Grove-Carneys Point School Employee Association say they've had little involvement in the planning process.

They also say mold has been discovered in Penns Grove High School.

The superintendent says air quality in two of the schools in question has been tested.

While slightly elevated levels of fungus were detected, the superintendent says the levels are still considered acceptable, and in-person classes are still on.

Yari Morales and her son, Isaiah Santiago, 12, of Carneys Point, New Jersey are getting ready for virtual school.

They chose the option because of COVID-19 concerns.

Isaiah says he's on board with the decision. "I don't want to catch the COVID," he said.

"I'm not going to risk my kids. I have three kids, I'm not risking them," said Morales.

Officials with the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional School District says 45% of their families chose the all-remote option for this school year.

The rest will start a hybrid schedule on September 8, divided into two student cohorts.

"Our kids are going in these buildings, we're not getting the clear answers, and they're telling us you have to go in," said Amy Tighe, president of the Penns Grove-Carneys Point School Employee Association.

Teachers Action News spoke with say they're being asked to come back into the buildings five days a week, and they feel unsafe.

"We're going to be responsible for telework, synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, sanitation, as well as identifying possible COVID-19 symptoms. We're asking a lot of our teachers and I feel as though we're setting our members up for failure," said high school English teacher Robert Fitzpatrick.

Tighe says photos showing mold growing on various surfaces were taken inside Penns Grove High School within the past two weeks.

Superintendent Dr. Zenaida Cobian says after the mold was brought to her attention, an environmental company ran tests in the middle and high school this week.

"The levels are acceptable," said Cobian. "Our buildings are safe. It should not be a concern. If it was a concern, most definitely we would not begin school until it's safe."

Cobian sent Action News photos from inside the schools and says they are prepared with thermal temperature scanners, plastic dividers in classrooms, and P.P.E.

"The kids are excited. They want to have that human interaction that is needed," said Cobian.

Dr. Cobian said the district's initial reopening plan was sent back from the state Dept. of Education for revisions, but those revisions were made and she says it was approved by the state this week, meaning in-person instruction is a go for September 8.
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