High Tensions at Wayne BOE Meeting


By Lauren Reiser, Senior Editor

Tensions were high at the Wayne Board of Education meeting on Thursday, January 21. Teachers were asking to remain virtual, parents were demanding that their kids go back to school,  and students were rallying against the extended virtual schedule. And in the middle of this conflict is the BOE, which was confronted with close to 500 attendants of the most recent 5-hour board meeting.

Before the lengthy public comment portion of the meeting, Dr. Mark Toback and the board members presented updated COVID data, information about staffing shortages, and their plans regarding reopening the schools in mid-February.

But the public section of the meeting is when things became heated. Numerous parents vocalized their strong support of reopening Wayne schools, claiming “science” proved that it was safe to have in-person learning.

“We all know at this point the CDC’s recommendations are for the kids to remain in school. It seems that Wayne seems to do things backwards,” claimed one parent.

Many parents cited a study from Duke University and the University of North Carolina which found that transmission of the coronavirus was rare in North Carolina schools that used masks and followed distancing and handwashing mandates.

Parents also expressed their significant concern for their children’s mental health, which they claim has been rapidly deteriorating due to virtual learning.

“My children experience daily meltdowns [and] they hate school, which breaks my heart because they used to love to learn. Their eyes hurt, their heads hurt, [and] they feel isolated [and] unmotivated,” said one of the parents.

On the other side, most teachers expressed their belief that remaining virtual is the safest and most efficient option: some feeling very insulted by the parents’ comments.

One teacher passionately addressed the parents’ complaints about teachers who are currently in quarantine. “There have been claims that the statistics presented by Dr. Toback regarding the number of teachers that need to quarantine are unacceptable. There are claims that these teachers need to quarantine because they’ve been out socializing in public and it’s their own fault that they can’t come into the buildings. Truth be told, teachers are people. We have teachers that live with parents who may be doctors or nurses and have brought the virus home. We have teachers who are married to police officers or EMTs who may have brought the virus home. We have teachers who are volunteer firefighters and are exposed because they put their own lives on the line to help others… So please, to this small group of parents, please stop posting accusations. Please stop slandering teachers.”

In addition to wanting to protect their health, teachers believe that the virtual learning environment is better than the previous hybrid model.

“The benefit of being online together without masks promotes socialization and overall mental wellbeing,” said a Wayne reading specialist. “Our job as teachers is to deliver high-quality instruction… a virtual model allows us to do just that. It allows us to have all of our kids in front of us at the same time, so we can hone in on the wants and needs of each student. The hybrid model did just the opposite. Teachers were trying to find a balance between kids in person and the virtual. No educator can effectively teach and focus in two different directions at the same time. This had a huge impact on the students’ education, not because of the teachers, but because kids were not getting 100% of what they deserved.”

Many students attended the board meeting to express their disapproval of the extended virtual schedule, with many taking the opportunity to voice their concerns and disapproval directly to the board.

Wayne Hills senior, Sakshi Lende, began her comments by addressing students’ dissatisfaction with Dr. Toback’s email regarding student and parent protests to the altered schedule.

“Recently, students received an email by the district regarding our very large response to the new schedule change. However, the email didn’t address many of our more pressing concerns, and some of the direct quotes chosen within this email made us appear immature, brushing our legitimate issues to the side.”

Lende also expressed how students were upset with the lack of transparency regarding this sudden change.

“It’s… insensitive to not take economic situations into account, to expect to students to make the decision between supporting our families or our education, especially when this is a decision that can easily be avoided if we get the chance to provide our own input,” said Lende. “We are often caught unaware of changes and made to seem childish for bringing up our concerns, but we can’t be expected to act like adults if we’re not allowed to have the same privileges.”

Wayne Hills senior Ashley Blitzer also expressed her concerns about the extended schedule and Dr. Toback’s response letter to the students.

“[Dr. Toback’s letter] talks about how lunchtime is a great way to have a break from electronics, but then goes on to say it is an opportunity to catch up on homework. All of our homework is on computers except for math. The decision that directly affects students and teachers is in the hands of people who do not attend school. We were never involved and are never involved in any decision-making as it pertains to new schedules, but we are the ones most affected by it.”

While the future of the Wayne School’s learning model is uncertain, it is clear that the BOE has a lot to deal with in these upcoming weeks.