An Open Letter to My School Board and Superintendent

Dear Board of Education & Superintendent; 

      I am writing to you today as an experienced city educator, a mom and as someone who holds a PhD in education. I have worked in the area for 12 years. I also teach at a college that services a large portion of our graduates.  

      Our students enter schools behind their suburban peers and often graduate behind them as well. When you add the shutdowns, the year of virtual school and now, the continuation of masking and COVID protocols that prevent me and my colleagues from performing many needed intervention strategies, we are setting our students up to fail even more. I have taught 8th grade for the last nine years. This year, my reading scores are showing the lowest growth if there is any at all. Socially and emotionally, most of my students present more like 5th graders—the last year that they had in school that was normal for them. They are struggling in ways I haven’t seen before.  

      I was shocked to hear you announce that we were going to be continuing with these measures, especially when Mercer County is listed in green—which purports no need to wear a mask. As the body of research grows in terms of how covid protocols, including masking, have affected students and driven learning loss while the pandemic went on, there are already studies that show the impact on student literacy and the impact on their reading abilities and effects on their education: 

There is also growing research on how masking has affected younger students in their language skill sets and have caused speech and language delays in pre-school students—many of which do not know a world without the pandemic:

  • Study on nonverbal communication and children:

  • Study on cognitive decline, speech and language delays in children 0-5 due to COVID restrictions (including masking):

While we had to learn what COVID was and what the best ways to fight the virus would be, we sacrificed in many other areas, including our children. However, we are now at a time where we know how to prevent and treat. We are also in a much different position than we were two years ago, and it is time to start addressing how to begin supporting our student’s growth forward following three school years of disruption, loss of services and the side effects of masking.  

      Respectfully, I request that you please think over your decision to continue this mandate next week. Many of my 8th graders were looking forward to taking off their masks, some even exclaimed they were ready to burn them or cut them up—never wanting to see them again. They are hungry for a normal school life…one where they can see their friends and teacher’s faces. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.  

Dr. Katherine Kuzma-Beck Hart, PhD

Government Mandates are Causing Speech and Language Delays in Children

What this pandemic has done is take a group of people and have given them all of the power to harm some of our most silent victims: our children.

My older son was 18 months old when lock downs began. This is a pivotal time for speech and language development and it has harmed him immensely. While I have kept his story quiet out of respect for his journey and ours, I feel it is time to share it because something needs to change in this state.

My son has been called “retarded, “slow” by “family” and we were spoken about among the same ignorant group of “family” that we were bad parents. Meanwhile, quietly, we were waiting up to 6 months to get our son seen for a myriad of tests that I didn’t even want him to go through because I already knew the outcome: he would be negative for all of it.

And at the end of it? He was negative for all of it. And part of me wanted to have a billboard made and put up with the headline “NOT AUTISTIC AND NOT RETARDED” since it took a lot of self control not to lose my mind on these women who should have been large, supportive facets in my son’s life but instead showed me what they truly are and what they truly think of me and my family.

I digress. He now has two diagnoses and a medical exemption for the mask. He qualifies for service through public school. We are now in week two of him not receiving services because the supervisor of special services along with her board physician want to deny my son’s exemption even though it works within the governor’s mandate and they will force him to be bothered all day by adults putting this magic fabric over his face. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be for a 3 year old? He doesn’t understand why people wear them, we tried to have him do it at home– doesn’t work–all the while you are already so frustrated with trying to get words out of your brain through your mouth and not being able to, and now you have these people who you really don’t know touching your face and putting this fabric over your mouth every time you take it off. I even wanted it amended into his IEP because of his inability to understand and all I got met with is the usual “for my safety” and “oh we’ll work with him.” Even though, if this was written into his IEP, he would not have to wear a mask per the EO. And for any teacher that cites “safety”…let me ask you, do you mask yourself and your own children when you go to Target? Grocery shopping? Out to eat? I highly doubt it.

In the same breath, once the lawyer I hired got involved I then get an email from the superintendent saying how they’ll work to accommodate him and the board attorney will be in touch. That was a week ago and there is no response from their side. My son still does not have adequate services and it is now going to be some back and forth because these adults just want to cite a mandate that I am not even working to challenge, but ALLOWS for this and scream FOR MY SAFETY as they go. All that this is doing is discriminating against children and people with disabilities.

My son is not the only story. There is a huge increase in childhood delays and in speech delays. We had to wait months to get in for private speech therapy and then even longer for him to get ENOUGH private speech therapy on top of all the trips to doctors, specialists and hospitals. Even now, it has been choppy service privately as well as the place opens and closes for COVID exposure. We have really good insurance and even with it, they will only cover 30 sessions which is nothing. After that? We can look forward to a $600 bill a month to continue the support that he needs with a therapist that he loves. Now, imagine, someone who does not have good health insurance and has absolutely no way of covering a $600 a month bill. What happens to their child? Only further behind do they fall. It’s exhausting and we are failing these kids.

If I enrolled my son where I work, they would have immediately taken his medical exemption and worked with it. If we lived a town over and took him there, they wouldn’t even allow him to have speech therapy without a mask on. How many kids have to suffer before something changes? Language is a continuum and by isolating and masking young children, we are taking away their ability to learn language within social settings and among their peers and teachers.

When does the nonsense end? When does this governor get these powers removed already? We are two years into this and the ScIEnCe is even showing how ineffective and overall DAMAGING this is to kids. Just yesterday, I was reading an article that cited a study that claimed a 350% increase in childhood speech delays. They are so far behind and the longer it goes the worse it will be. Now, when I listen to the radio and you have this governor saying he’s thinking about ending masking, but in the same breath just mandated BOOSTERS for healthcare workers and I am sure is gearing up to do the same thing to teachers? Please, when does the mandate get removed? My money is on or about June 1st so he can appease NJEA elites and think he’s going to win favor with parents who are ready to stand up and fight this insanity?

NJEA and this governor are the virus in New Jersey and it needs to be stopped, we are damaging generations of children for many years to come both through so much disruption to their education, the masking and also with forcing parents to pump them full of an experimental gene therapy to allow them to stay in school. Only to then again move even that goal post and say, whelp, now they need their booster! Even though none of this stops the spread or transmission of the virus. What is the point? We have really entered the point of it all being political control so those that have money can make even more money on all of this and it is disgusting and at the expense of our most vulnerable, often silent victims: our children.