Board of Education Meeting Exposes Conflicts


courtesy of Hillsborough Township Public Schools

Union President Henry Goodhue expresses teachers’ concerns about in-person instruction to the Board of Education members.

Sam Renz, World Views editor

On Monday, Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m. EST, the Hillsborough Township Board of Education hosted a meeting at Auten Road Intermediate School, and after an hour, parents, teachers, students, and union representatives were given the opportunity to speak to the Board of Education via Zoom. With it being the first week of our district’s return to hybrid school, participants shared their opinions, both positive and negative, about the board’s decision to end the period of fully virtual learning. 

First, Superintendent Dr. Lisa Antunes addressed one immediate issue faced by our school systems. On the first day back to the hybrid schedule, teachers were encouraged to stay home if they felt uncomfortable teaching in person, so the school system saw 144 teacher absences for “personal illness” and 38 for “family illness” in one day. These absences left schools significantly understaffed, causing issues for classroom management throughout most schools. 

Afterwards, Antunes clarified that she would be willing to shut down certain classes, schools, or programs if COVID cases would require. She also rejected a rumor that our schools are not disclosing all cases, explaining that our schools’ COVID case updates only include positive cases of students or staff who attend the hybrid school or an extracurricular activity. As a result, students who attend school virtually and test positive for the virus are not reported, for they do not attend any face-to-face, school-related activities. Union President Henry Goodhue later criticized this method of reporting and asserted that it is not reflective of our school’s level of risk for spreading the virus. On Thursday, Dec. 10 at 4:18 p.m., Antunes, hoping to be more transparent to the community, sent a follow-up email to the district to clarify this process.

When given the chance to speak, Goodhue expressed some of the most prominent concerns of Hillsborough residents and educators, one of which being that teachers were not invited to the previous week’s meeting that discussed plans to reopen. In addition, Montgomery schools have only about a quarter of the number of cases that Hillsborough schools have, but they are on a fully virtual schedule until late January, which is a generally more proactive approach than Hillsborough’s. “We are a district that relies upon data in almost every decision, except now,” Goodhue said. Like him, many parents and teachers are understandably skeptical about the decision to return Hillsborough students to school. 

After Goodhue finished speaking, attendees listened to different people who took into consideration not only the students but also the teachers’ well being. Among these speakers was Hillsborough alum Angela Horr, who addressed the lack of transparency to parents about issues faced by staff members, like some who were denied the option to teach virtually despite legitimate medical exemptions. Other speakers included teachers from different schools who are dissatisfied with the measures being taken to reduce the spread of the virus in Hillsborough Township public schools. 

We also heard from Hillsborough High School Junior Jordan Lindsey, who implored the board to take students’ and teachers’ opinions and feelings into consideration when making their decisions. “One day of learning can be brought back, but a loss of life cannot be,” Lindsey said. 

Counter points were brought up by attendees Greg Gillette and John Oliver. Defending the board’s decision to return to hybrid, they brought up data that supports the idea that opening schools may be of lower risk than people believe. They advocated the idea of more collaboration, listening, and cooperation between staff and students while defending the claim that students need to return to school for the sake of their mental health and educational value.

Overall, public opinions clashed with the decisions of board members on the topic of hybrid school. While many speakers expressed their dissatisfaction and unease with the board’s decisions, board members held firm to the stance that opening the schools was a difficult yet optimal decision. More of this conflict is expected to reveal itself in the coming weeks’ Board of Education meetings.

A video recording of the entire meeting is posted on YouTube, titled “Hillsborough Board of Education Meeting 12-7-2020.”