Updated: Alternate In-Person And Virtual Learning Weeks, Face Masks Highlight District’s Planned Schools Re-Opening

The first day of school for the 2020-21 school year will be very different from years’ past, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo.)

Update: The school district will hold a virtual “town hall” meeting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 4 to address questions and concerns parents and others may have about the proposed re-opening plan.

Schools Superintendent John Ravally said at the July 23 virtual school board meeting that the district will create a Google forum for parents to ask questions, and on July 27 will post to the web site the report sent to the Somerset County Executive Superintendent, as well as a Power Point explainer presentation.

Ravally said more information on how to call in to the Town Hall will be provided on July 27.

The Superintendent also said that building principals will hold similar town hall meetings closer to the start of school in September.

Other information provided at the July 23 meeting:

  • Ravally said that the district is looking to put no more than 12 or 13 students in each classroom.
  • The district will know more about what the all-virtual learning option will look like once the state Department of Education releases its guidance, Ravally said. (The DOE released guidance on July 24.)
  • Although it’s in the plan, the district is not “100 percent sure” that elementary school clubs will be offered, the Superintendent said.
  • The district will try to keep siblings in the same school, grade-appropriate, Ravally said, “so every family member goes to school the same week .. and we provide some opportunity for sanity …”

Original Story: The 2020-21 school year will be based on a hybrid four-day schedule, alternating weekly between in-person and virtual learning, with a number of COVID-19 mitigating strategies, under a plan set to be voted on by the Board of Education on July 23.

Under the 84-page policy, students would have their temperature taken upon entering school, would be asked screening questions when boarding school buses, and would have to wear face coverings during parts of the school day.

Parents and guardians would be able to request their child not attend school in-person during the pandemic, and could also ask to opt-out of the mandatory face covering rule as well as waive district transportation, according to the proposed plan, which is called the “Restart and Recovery Plan.”

The plan was developed in conjunction with guidance from the state Department of Education and standards set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Under the plan, half of a school’s students would be in school for four days, Monday through Thursday, while the other half would learn remotely.

On Fridays, all of a school’s students would learn remotely, to give teachers “the necessary time to plan and engage in professional development to support the uniqueness of the hybrid schedule,” according to the proposed plan.

Secondary school students would pretty much follow their regular schedules, meeting with a teacher at least once a week, according to the plan.

Elementary school students learning in-person will stick to the core subjects of math, English Language Arts, science and social studies.

Students boarding school buses will be asked screening questions by bus drivers, and any student showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be isolated on the bus, according to the plan.

Buses would be unloaded one at a time at schools, with students exiting from the buses’ back doors.

School buses must be cleaned and disinfected before and after each bus route. Students must wear face coverings on the bus, if social distancing cannot be accomplished.

Students and staff will have their temperatures taken upon entering the buildings at specially-designated entrances. Staff recording a temperature of more than 100 degrees will be asked to undergo a more thorough screening by a nurse. Students recording a temperature of more than 100 degrees will be taken to an isolation room near the nurse’s office, where the nurse will do a further assessment, according to the proposed plan.

If the student’s high temperature does not recede, the student will be isolated until a parent or guardian can bring them home.

Students and staff members who record temperatures of more than 100 degrees will be required to stay home for three days, and can only return with a doctor’s note clearing them, according to the proposed plan.

Those who do not have a doctor’s note will be required to quarantine for 14 days before being let back into the building.

When a student or staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19, the district’s lead nurse will be notified, and will then notify the Somerset County Health Department to create a contact tracing plan.

Masks will be mandatory for students and staff – “unless it will inhibit the individual’s health” – when entering the building and moving around and standing on lines.

Parents may request a waiver from the face covering requirement but may be asked to submit a doctor’s note explaining why the face covering cannot be worn.

Visitors who refuse to wear face coverings for non-medical reasons, and for whom a face covering cannot be provided at a school entrance may not be allowed in the buildings, according to the proposed plan.

The schools Superintendent has the authority to close certain buildings if necessary, according to the plan.

Classroom space will be divided by 44 square-feet per person, allowing for students to have three feet of personal space and the 6-foot socially distanced perimeter, according to the proposed plan.

Desks will be arranged in forward-facing rows with proper distances observed. Where the distance cannot be observed in non-instructional rooms, barriers will be put in place, according to the proposed plan.

There will be a one-way directional flow in all school buildings.

Students will be assigned sets of supplies, and those supplies will be kept in a sealable container for the students’ exclusive use.

Students will be given one-to-one technology and will be encouraged to bring their own technology to school, cutting down on the sharing of Chromebooks, according to the proposed plan.

Hand-sanitizing stations will be placed in each classroom, at building entrances and exits, near lunchrooms and bathrooms, according to the proposed plan.

Children younger than 5 years will be helped with the sanitizing process, and classrooms that have existing hand-washing stations will be supplied with soap, water and alcohol-based sanitizer, with 60 percent alcohol.

Students will be required to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds regularly during the day, before eating, after using the bathroom and after blowing their nose, coughing and sneezing.

How students get their meals during the day will also change, according to the proposed plan.

Elementary and middle school students will receive their breakfasts from a cart in the hallway, and will be required to wear facial coverings when approaching the cart.

The food will be wrapped, and students will return to their desks to eat it. Desks will be wiped down after the meal is finished.

In Franklin High School, after their temperature has been scanned, students can get breakfast from carts located in various areas in the school. They, too, will be required to wear facial coverings when approaching the cart, and will be given wrapped food which will be eaten in the first period classes.

In the lunch rooms, family style, self-service and buffet meal distribution will be discontinued, according to the proposed plan, and lunch periods will be staggered to allow for social distancing and disinfecting between uses.

Lunches will be served by personnel who are behind partitions, and partitions will also be in place when students pay for their lunches.

Students who are doing remote learning will be given grab-and-go breakfast and lunch packs on Fridays, in the lobbies of four schools and at 31 bus stops.

There are also new rules for recess and physical education classes under the proposed plan.

Recess times will be staggered when possible, and all outdoor areas will be marked off with flags, cones and tape to encourage social distancing, according to the proposed plan.

There will be no activities that require contact or that do not allow for proper social distancing. There will also be no games that require special equipment or dress, and students will be encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and shoes to school when they have physical education classes.

Playground equipment use will be staggered.

All students must wash their hands immediately after playtime, and locker rooms may be closed, where it’s feasible, to mitigate exposure in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, according to the proposed plan.

There will be no sharing of equipment during physical education and recesses.

Field trips will have to be virtual, and any arts performances – at least in the Fall – will have to be live-streamed or recorded because there will be no performances in front of live audiences. There will be no after school gatherings.

There will also be no late buses. Only students will be allowed on the small buses; family members will no longer be allowed on.

Outdoor performances “will be allowed in accordance with regulations governing outdoor activities at the time of performance …” according to the proposed plan.

Elementary school club meetings will be limited to 10 members at a time, and all Back To School nights and parent-teacher conferences will be held virtually.

The district is also still developing a child care policy and is talking to local faith-based organizations to find additional space for the day care.

Each school’s School Crisis Team will serve as its Pandemic Response Team to “centralize, expedite, and implement COVID-19 related decision making,” according to the policy. The policy also includes guidelines and practices for staff, teachers, substitute teachers and student teachers.

Once approved by the school board, the plan must be reviewed by the Executive County Superintendent.

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