10 Percent Of Township Students Opt Out Of In-Person Learning, So Far

On the eve of a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the school district’s reopening plan, nearly 10 percent of the township’s student population will start the school year learning at home.

District spokeswoman Mary Clark said that as of the afternoon of Aug. 3, the district was notified that 666 students would opt for the remote-learning option offered by the schools’ reopening plan.

Parents have until August 15 to request that their child opt out of in-person learning.

There are currently 6,827 students registered for the township’s traditional public schools.

The Board of Education is holding a “town hall” style teleconference at 6 p.m. August 4 to further discuss the schools’ reopening plan, which was first released in late July.

Parents will be able to ask questions about the plan during the teleconference.

The plan is a hybrid of remote- and in-person learning options, with students switching off weekly.

Monday through Thursday of every week will see up to half the district’s students in classrooms, and up to half of the students learning remotely. The two groups will change learning modes every Monday.

Fridays will be used to thoroughly clean schools – although rigorous cleaning will also take place during the rest of the week – to prepare for the next week’s influx of new students.

Clark said the district may have to amend part of the plan, which describes when masks must be worn, in light of Gov. Phil Murphy’s updated rule on that issued on August 3.

“Once we get the official guidance we may have to amend the plan,” she said in an email. “As of right now the Plan says that masks are mandated when social distance cannot be maintained and strongly encouraged to wear them when they can be socially distant.”

Murphy’s new rule mandates that masks be worn all the time students are in school, with some exceptions, as for health reasons. Murphy’s rule also calls for periodic “mask breaks” during the day, provided they can be done outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms.

Murphy’s rule allows for the following exceptions:

  • Doing so would inhibit the student’s health.
  • The student is in extreme heat outdoors.
  • The student is in water.
  • A student’s documented medical condition, or disability as reflected in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), precludes the use of face covering.
  • The student is under the age of two (2), due to the risk of suffocation.
  • During the period that a student is eating or drinking.
  • Face coverings should not be placed on anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, or anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance (e.g. face coverings should not be worn by Pre-K students during nap time).
  • The student is engaged in high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities.
  • Face coverings may be removed during gym and music classes when individuals are in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet apart.
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.

The plan to allow schools to open for in-person learning has caused controversy throughout the state, with opponents saying its too soon to expose children and teachers to possible coronavirus infection.

Teachers union chapters across the state have spoken out against the plan. While the Franklin Township Education Association has been more passive in its opposition – sharing anti-plan posts from other groups, for example, but not making a statement itself – FTEA president Dan Mayer did sign an open letter from the Somerset County Education Association to Murphy and acting state education commissioner Kevin Dehmer asking that school’s not be reopened to in-person learning until the following questions can be answered:

  • Given that indoor dining in restaurants is unsafe, how can we serve food to hundreds of students in a crowded cafeteria which may not have air conditioning or proper ventilation?
  • Many school employees will not return to school because of childcare concerns, pre-existing health conditions, or fear of entering crowded public buildings during a pandemic. Furthermore, we expect many more school employees will need to quarantine for 14 days at various points throughout the year. Schools already have a shortage of substitutes, and we cannot combine classes because of social distancing requirements. What do we do when we become understaffed?
  • How will we socially distance in the hallways, especially during high traffic times such as period changes?
  • Many districts are not requiring students to wear masks. How can staff and other students be protected if some students are not masked?
  • How will school supplies be provided and disinfected for each classroom and subject area– pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, including special area subjects – since students can no longer share materials safely?
  • How can we ensure all air conditioners and HVAC systems have appropriate screens in order to circulate filtered, clean air? What will we do about buildings and classrooms without any air conditioning or proper ventilation at all?
  • When students engage in severe behaviors that are hazardous to themselves or others, as can be common in autism and other special education classrooms, how can these behaviors be deescalated while observing social distancing?
  • How will each district prepare to manage the grief and trauma from the increased likelihood of deaths in their school community?

Multiple messages to the FTPA for comment on the district’s plans were not answered.

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