Gloucester Township Board of Education held a regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 28, with the announcement of ending the mask mandate in all township schools, being the biggest takeaway.
Superintendent John Bilodeau clarified some miscommunication from the governor’s February 16 announcement about ending the statewide mask mandate in schools. The announcement made by Governor Murphy did not include the federal transportation mask mandate.
“Just to clarify, when we received the announcement from the state, we were allowed to make masks optional in schools starting on March 7. But, we still had to require students to wear them on buses,” said Bilodeau.
On Feb. 25 there was a federal order that terminated the mask mandate on transportation. This announcement came at a time when the school was still enforcing mask wearing.
“This created a bit of an awkward situation for me. To go out on the 16th of February and tell people that on March 7th masks would be optional, awkward in a sense that I have to tell parents two different things. So I was pleased that the CDC lifted that order, all along I just wanted it to be linear [between the state and CDC].”
Another major talking point at the meeting was the topic of contract disputes on the special education budget. Many of the board members are pleased with the money allocation to the current special education providers, while others believe the township is spending too much money on non-school district employees.
Bilodeau explained in detail some of the pros and cons of the dispute, stating some of the issues arose from COVID and school shutdowns. Due to staffing shortages the district has brought in contracted employers whose hourly pay is nearly double what other districts pay.
“When we don’t have the resources in house, we go outside to pay for it…I think [some of] the board would prefer to go back to the way we once were. That’s to have our own staff. Even if they have to obtain specialized training, even if that costs some money. I just think some members want to bring our own staff ‘on board’,” said Bilodeau.
The meeting concluded with comments from community members in attendance. Many questions centered around why Gloucester Township school district is the only school district in Camden County that does not live stream or record their board of education meetings.
“This was a topic we brought up six years ago at a meeting to hopefully get ahead of some other school districts. Now we are behind them,” said one community member.
Bilodeau understands the concerns However, he noted that the board has experienced turnover and sometimes topics like this get lost.
“There has not been any recent discussion around livestreams. It’s not been a topic brought up to the board, or myself until this last meeting… however it is a board decision, ultimately it is not my [decision],” said Bilodeau.
“In the past it had not gotten a lot of traction.The topic kind of went away. Now we have a new board president and new board members. I would imagine the board will discuss it going forward [to reach a resolution].”