Dear Colleagues,

Well, we have successfully navigated yet another week of online instruction and you all have excelled as always.  This isn’t easy for any of us and Wednesday night’s email has not made it any easier for us.  

I had a very lengthy conversation with Dr. Yurchak yesterday and I went through two pages, front and back, of concerns and questions that were brought to me by your building reps through numerous texts and phone calls along with those I received from members and your Executive Board.  I went through every one of these concerns, one by one, and spent time talking about each one with Dr. Yurchak while he took notes.  I thought it was a productive back and forth conversation and he acknowledged that we have brought up some very valid concerns, especially with the live instruction.  He stated he did not have all of the answers but would speak with the BOE and the BOE Attorney.  He promised to get back to me in a few days regarding our concerns as whole and especially the ones he had to seek answers for.  

I have been advocating our union’s perspective since day one of online instruction and I have fought off any type of video/audio instruction for as long as I could.  In my ideal world we would not have to put ourselves through any uncertainties or new platforms on the fly.  However, I was only able to keep us from moving forward with these platforms for so long.  Every step of the way I have been in constant communication with the BCEA, NJEA and your Executive Board, collaborating and seeking clarification.

This is new to all of us and I am smart enough to know that I need guidance and must review proposed conversations and decisions with multiple people of expertise.  The NJEA has reiterated over and over that local districts can mandate audio/visual platforms and can even mandate live 2 way platforms with audio and/or video.  I adamantly continue to fight our district from mandating use of Google Meet/Hangouts.  As of right now you all know , one of the three platforms is mandated to be used once a week per subject.  I strongly urge you to use Flipgrid or Screencastify as your platform for one way instruction, ESPECIALLY if you are not really comfortable with any of these platforms.  No matter how comfortable you think you are with live 2 way instruction, there are way too many variables that are at play with current 2 way platforms.  Please know that I have heard EVERY one of your concerns through your building reps, who have been doing a fantastic job bringing your concerns to me, advocating for you and sharing their own concerns.   

To prove the unpredictability of Google Meet, I “google bombed” a district meeting today that I was not invited to.  I was able to listen in on the session for 6 to 7 minutes by using my phone and no one in the Google Meet even knew I was there.  After 6 or 7 minutes I hung up my phone and joined the Google Meet by using my computer with my microphone and camera on to say hi.  Everyone in the Google Meet was taken back and surprised to see me, of course.  Now on most days I think of myself as a responsible adult but the truth of the matter is that any student who doesn’t sign a waiver could do the same thing or even parents could be listening in on Google Meet.

This is the main reason I strongly urge you to use one way communication and, as a matter of fact, use it well.  You get to control the environment of one way instruction without any disruptions from outside factors.  I know that some households are much busier and louder than others but with the expectation of once a week, you can find some time in the day to escape for a few minutes to record an audio file, or video (if you choose) for your class.  You can step outside, go in your car to be by yourself, record early in the morning, record late at night, etc. (Whenever you can find the most private time) and complete a flipgrid.  I think right now, besides me advocating for you, our best protection against mandatory 2 way instruction is combined, daily efforts led by you using flipgrid or screencastify as well as you can.  You can use it as an intro to your class, just saying hello to your students, closing your class,  going over the main points discussed or worked on, providing reading instructions to a lesson, etc.  I ask that you try and vary when you use the platform in your class as opposed to being just your entrance to class every week.  I have already decided personally that I will be using Flipgrid as an audio file.  I plan on either putting a stock photo of myself already on the internet from one of my coaching newspaper articles or simply using the NA Viking Logo.  My students will get to hear my voice and don’t need to see my face, especially with what my hair currently looks like.  

I also recognize that there will be teachers across our district that decide to use Google Meet since it is optional.  I hope your lessons run smoothly and are as successful as possible.  There were many concerns that were brought to my attention about the 2 way instruction. and I sought answers for those questions during my talk with Dr. Yurchak.  Please be extra careful until I can provide some guidelines and guidance on what to do in the event of some inappropriate or concerning scenarios during 2 way instruction.  Once again, DO NOT tell any administrator in the district that you feel comfortable presenting or teaching colleagues more about 2 way instruction, even if asked specifically by them.  Express your own confidence in using this platform but that you would prefer to focus on your own lessons. The unintended consequence of our willingness to try and teach colleagues could push the district into mandating this platform that the overwhelming majority of our membership does not feel comfortable using. 

As I prefaced before I have talked to the NJEA about all of this and other local presidents, and we are one of the last districts in the area to not be doing at least one way audio/video instruction.  It’s not what we want to hear, but unfortunately this has started to become common practice.  After taking a day to absorb all of this I am proud that our district was able to hold off audio/video instruction until the 8th week of online instruction, before being mandated in comparison to other districts that were mandated earlier.

I will closely monitor the progress of our cause and, if deemed necessary, your executive board and I will organize a united presence during May’s BOE meeting.  We are a union and united we stand strong!!

I know you don’t hear it enough from our administration, but for what it is worth, I am so proud of the job we have all done.  You have invested your all into doing your best to support our students and each other.  As we move forward, we must remain willing to continue learning from what is and is not working well.  Our effort to continually evaluate and reflect on our work has become more important than ever.  As some of the original novelty has worn off and the reality of what we must do sets in, it is remarkable what we are all doing.

To end this email on a positive note our Union has used PRIDE funds to donate 600 washable masks to 5 different hospitals in 4 different counties as well as frontline workers in North Arlington.  We also provided food for all of the North Arlington Essential Workers.  Our acts of kindness were picked up by the BCEA and the NJEA who will be posting pics on their Facebook pages and/or websites within the coming days.  It will also be posted on our local NAEA website.  As always feel free to contact your executive board by way of your building reps, association email, and our association website which is www.narlingtonea.org

Yours in Solidarity,

Dan Farinola – President

With full support from,

Anthony Marck – Vice President

Barry Ross – Vice President

Doris Fitzgerald – Treasurer

Sharon O’Brien-Romer – Secretary

Jesse Dembowski – Past President