Concerned Parents Protest Robbinsville High School COVID-19 Closure And The Way It Was Handled

September 22, 2021

ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)—A group of concerned parents gathered in protest in front of Robbinsville High School this morning about the school’s COVID-19 closure and how it was handled. The Robbinsville High School was closed on Friday September 17, 2021 after the School District consulted with the State Department of Health in an emergency meeting that included physicians, epidemiologists and other experts in the area of COVID-19. The health experts strongly advised the Robbinsville School District to close the high school for five days immediately as stated by, Brian J. Betze, Superintendent of Robbinsville Public Schools.

Rich Ferm one of concerned parents told in a statement, “This is about getting our kids back in school and staying in school, including sports, bands and activities. This is about holding our district accountable to higher standards and better protocol when dealing with covid and contact tracing etc.”

“We are not against vaccination. We are not against quarantining. We want proper protocol and proper leadership and accountability. We want awareness for the mental health of our children. We never want what happened on Friday to happen again to our kids. It’s about asking for more sensible quarantining to reduce the spread as in quarantining any close contact regardless of vax status.  It’s has been proven in just three short weeks of school how the Admins poor strategy has failed our kids. And how the actions of one superintendent on Friday affected an entire community and is damaging so many kids.” according to Rich Ferm.

The protesting parents had seven points of concern they wanted the public to be aware of including:

  1. No school should be closed right now.  Period.
  2. The mitigation measures put forth by the school are subpar.  Basically, they’re ridiculous and don’t exist. They are hiding behind the guidelines put forth by Jill Swanson at the county that are nonsensical.  It is a reward system for vaccinated students that does not keep anyone safe, even the vaccinated.
  3. This was not a political issue or vaccine issue until Mr. Betze made it one in his email and video, along with his incorrect statistics.
  4. Children’s mental health are at risk now more than ever.
  5. There needs to be checks and balances as to the decision process of our superintendent.  He is going rogue.  Where is the control of the BOE.
  6. We are very sensitive regarding the sick student and pray for their recovery. But the school district did not actively implement a system to keep the students safe by only quarantining unexposed unvaccinated students.
  7. The high school needs to reopen Monday.  And sports and activities need to reconvene -especially outside that never should have been cancelled.  Senior nights need to be rescheduled and Homecoming should proceed as planned.

According to Ferm, he stated that as the last report there were 22 infected with COVID. When doing contact tracing before shutdown , the Super only quarantined the unvaccinated kids. That’s not following any protocol or science as vax kids got infected too as well as contact traced kids.

Ferm, also said that, 84% are vaccinated in high school.

According to Danielle DeSimone, “The tipping point for many of us here today was the manner in which the decision to close the high school was executed on Friday evening.  Some of our athletes were pulled from the field with roughly 5 minutes left in their game. Our football team was pulled from the field in Hightstown and then left standing there without busses to transport them back to RHS. We know tough decisions must be made as we make our way through this pandemic. But those decisions need to be executed better. Our kids have endured so much loss these past 18 months and how everything unfolded Friday night added to that loss and disappointment. “

“Additionally, we believe we need smarter mitigation when a positive case occurs in order to better control the outbreak. Contrary to the narrative that is being pushed by some individuals in our town, we are in support of public health measures and effective mitigation to protect our students both physically and mentally.” said, DeSimone.

Louise Shea said, “We are not a group of anti-safety, anti-vaccine, anti-mask parents. We are concerned group pushing for better mitigation measures to be implemented to keep our students and staff safe and schools open.  The current guidelines put forth from the state and county are failing- cohort quarantines do not work.  Contact tracing does.  We want better management of protocol, leadership and better implementation of uniform standards that are readily available for parents and students to access.  We need our administrators to lead by example and be transparent and all on the same page.”

Robbinsville Township Mayor Dave Fried released a statement this afternoon, “Some parents and students are very upset, and rightfully so. While some mistakes were clearly made in the execution and communication phases of the district’s plan to go back to remote learning until September 27, it takes a big person to be able to admit that … and Superintendent Brian Betze did that (Tuesday). None of us are perfect. Owning your mistakes, apologizing, and learning from them so it doesn’t happen again is the professional thing to do. We have made tremendous improvements in our schools and we will continue to work together to make our schools the best they can be, which includes the mental health of all our students. Let’s remember we are all in this together.”

Davena Moore a concerned mother with 3 children in the school system said, “The narrative gets muddied when politics, bullying, and hate fill the gaps of voices. Us parents have been directly asking for clear health metrics/protocols since the end of last school year, in line with the increased covid immunity within Robbinsville. In anticipation that this virus like others, mutate, strong leadership indicators would have had a clear plan of action. Our requests were ignored.”

“Failure to do so ultimately resulted in damage control from knee jerk reactions, more unfortunate community division, and significant mental health stresses. Robbinsville can avoid negative press through immediate process transparency, changed safety protocols that do not put students/staff unnecessarily at risk irregardless of vaccination status. The school bubble was broken this week during virtual learning a sub-par education. Competing with open schools puts our students at a distinct disadvantage when our current metrics have us opening and closing as the year progresses. This is a health concern that we believe we can all get behind!” said, Moore.

Letter sent to Robbinsville Parents and Students yesterday September 21, 2021 by Brian J. Betze, Superintendent of Robbinsville Public Schools:

As you are aware, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in our community, as Superintendent of the Robbinsville Public Schools, I made a decision to close our high school from Monday, September 20, 2021, through Friday, September 24, 2021.

Let me assure you, this decision was not made lightly. Unfortunately, due to the fast-moving chain of events on Friday, our plan’s execution and communication phases could have been done better and may have caused unnecessary confusion for some parents and students. For that, I apologize and take full responsibility. The situation abruptly impacted sports and other extracurricular events on Friday and Saturday. While we intended to ensure the safety of everyone involved, we should have been more sensitive to the impact of these actions. The buck stops with me, and you have my word that we can – and will – do better. 

On Friday afternoon, the West Windsor Health Department, which serves Robbinsville and Hightstown, confirmed that the number of COVID cases in Robbinsville High School – as well as the Township at large – had spiked over a very short period of time. As a result, we agreed to have an emergency meeting with the State Department of Health – a call that included several physicians, epidemiologists, and other experts in this area. After reviewing our numbers and the overall situation, they strongly advised us to close our high school for five school days immediately.

Each outbreak is unique. The following facts and data were taken into consideration which is why the state-level health officials were involved:

  • Robbinsville Township has the most positive number of COVID per 100,000 residents in Mercer County.
  • Total cases were increasing significantly. During the first week of September, there were five confirmed cases in the high school. As of last Friday, there were 22 confirmed cases with more tests results pending.
  • In addition, there were 36 pending PCR tests, and 85 students were in quarantine.
  • We had three unrelated confirmed outbreaks (three or more students) at RHS; state guidance from last year states that two unrelated cases would have initiated remote learning.
  • Due to the volume of cases, contract tracers were unable to keep up with determining where and how students were getting infected (at school versus not at school). 
  • Our high school positive infection rate of students is 2.10%, with 36 tests pending. An infection rate above 1.0% is considered cause to close a school and the metric we used last year. We are more than double that rate, with additional cases pending.
  • The disease is impacting both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff.

Considering these factors and the interpretation and guidance of numerous health experts, I believe we made the right decisions for our students, staff, and the entire community.

While the high school is closed this week, our nursing staff is working diligently with Mercer County, state, and local health officials on further contract tracing and ways to get students back in class as safely and quickly as possible.

The high school administration is rescheduling as many, if not all, athletic and extracurricular activities that were canceled. Practices will begin this coming Saturday, and we fully intend to reopen our high school by Monday, September 27. We all want our students and staff back in person and with their peers as quickly and safely as possible.

At this time, our elementary and middle school buildings are open and continue to follow all applicable local, state, and CDC health guidelines. There are no plans to close Sharon Elementary or Pond Road Middle School.

We started this school year focused on mental health and committed to providing resources for all students who need help. We understand the impact COVID-19 has had on students, staff, and their families. Events like this do not make it any easier. Please understand, these are not arbitrary decisions. We want nothing more than to offer a vibrant and productive educational experience. Sadly, closing our high school for five days was the right choice at this time. We realize some parents and students may not be happy with the decision, but our number one goal is to ensure that we do everything possible to keep our schools and community safe.

Looking back over the past couple of days, there are many lessons learned. Some issues should have been handled differently. As the District’s Superintendent, I accept responsibility for the decisions and what went wrong. Looking forward, I can assure you that all of our teams are working hard to meet the needs of our students. If you feel your child needs help in a particular area, please reach out to their teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, building administrators, or my office.

Finally, for any family that may be eligible and interested, there is a free vaccine clinic at Pond Road Middle School on Thursday, September 23, from 4-7 p.m.

As always, we encourage productive dialogue and a strong relationship with all who are part and engaged in our school community.

Working together, we can get through this.