MIDDLESEX BOROUGH — A borough school official chewed out a group of parents for allowing more than a dozen children to gather outdoors after a recent snowstorm for sledding, blaming their actions as the reason why schools continue with remote learning.

As nearly 200 school districts remain on "all remote" instruction nearly a year into the pandemic, tensions are mounting between school administrators, teachers and parents — who all have different opinions about when students should return to classrooms.

The borough school district has just over 2,000 students spread across six schools. In recent months, Board of Education meetings have become contentious.

As recently as Monday, Superintendent Frederick Williams said that the district would continue with remote learning "indefinitely" until either the state opened its vaccine eligibility to include educators or when data shows that the borough has had two consecutive weeks of less than 40 new confirmed cases of the virus.

The district had been close to reopening and switching to hybrid instruction as of Jan. 25, until a special board meeting days earlier, at which Williams first delivered the change in plans.

Comments read from submitted emails and made live during the public feedback portion of the board meetings include those from stressed parents, voicing concerns about "learning loss" and a lack of social interaction among students.

It was social interaction between some students and their families during a recent snowy day that added discord to the situation.

Photos of a sledding gathering of at least 16 school children and multiple adults from the community were posted to a Facebook account by at least one of those who had taken part.

One of the Middlesex residents who was there with her child then emailed New Jersey 101.5 on Feb. 5, after she was forwarded a few of the sledding group photos by the district's assistant superintendent in an email exchange about the lack of in-person school.

"The actions he took are grossly overreaching, inappropriate, unprofessional and offensive for a school administrator to be engaging in," the mother said of the administrator's mention of the photos that had been forwarded by another individual to district officials.

"His email accuses me and other parents of putting the community at risk by letting our kids go sledding outside without masks during the recent snow storm," the mother said in an email to New Jersey 101.5.

She did not respond to a question from New Jersey 101.5 about why the group, seen in at least two photos standing shoulder to shoulder without face coverings, was not concerned about community spread of coronavirus.

Neither the superintendent nor Assistant Superintendent Paul Rafalowski returned requests for comment.

Over a one-month span from Jan. 7 through Sunday, the borough reported 242 new cases of coronavirus based on test results.

A COVID-19 dashboard on the school district's website said that for the week of Feb. 5, there were nine students with confirmed cases and three cases among teachers, with dozens more in the community quarantined under protocols.

During the school board meeting Monday night, at least one parent asked about how teachers were contracting the virus despite all-remote instruction, while no public questions were raised on Monday as to the spread of the student cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has touted a “layered approach” to minimizing viral spread, with personal measures listed first, followed by administrative measures and engineering measures, according to the CDC website.

Other school administrators, including in East Brunswick, have urged families to continue social distancing and wearing masks in order to help district’s abilities to either begin offering some form of in-person instruction, or to help minimized interruptions due to contact tracing and quarantine guidelines around active cases.

During the same Monday meeting, an unidentified board member read a personal statement urging that the district look to cases of "success rather than failure" in other schools and move to some form of in-person instruction.

“You’re misrepresenting all of the hard work that this board and this administration has put into this pandemic day in and day out," the board president curtly replied, noting that they remained in agreement that in-person is the best form of teaching and that virtual instruction was not desirable above a safe return to classrooms.

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