OPINION: Why Are Bars & Restaurants Open in South Orange-Maplewood, But Schools Are Closed?

by Jason Tebbe
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Dear Editors,

I know many in SOMA are unhappy about the schools being remote after winter break. As a parent of young children and a teacher at a different school that will remain in person after break I am certainly among those people. This means a return to the punishing juggling act I was forced to endure through most of the 2020-2021 school year, a juggling act that brought on high levels of  stress and depression. For the first time in my career as a teacher I just wanted to quit. I’m distressed to be thrust back into that state of mind again.

However, I am especially incensed and perplexed that while my children will be not allowed in school ostensibly for safety reasons, bars and restaurants in SOMA will remain open with no vaccination requirements or even renewed occupancy requirements. There’s no more visible indictment of our society’s complete failure to deal with COVID than this. Maybe I should just send my kids to the bars the first week of January while I have to work. After all, bars have been implicitly endorsed as safer and more essential establishments to our community than my children’s school.

Our school district has repeatedly failed to do its most basic tasks in this pandemic, something obvious when comparing the ability of surrounding districts to stay open while avoiding outbreaks. That said, its failure is part of a larger failure we need to reckon with. Almost two years into the pandemic seeing bars open and schools closed in the same community ought to shock us but most don’t even notice it. The fact that home tests are not readily available ought to be a scandal, as is the fact that so many have refused vaccination with zero consequence. I fear that four years of criminal incompetence by the Trump administration has us grading other leaders on a curve when we need to be demanding better.

We have become so inured to the failure of our institutions that we just shrug our shoulders and move on when they fail us. That we continue to excuse such glaring failures is a sign of a learned helplessness that needs to stop if we are to have any hope of ending this pandemic.


Jason Tebbe
Maplewood, NJ

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