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School Administrators Detail What 2021-22 School Year Has In Store

District and school administrators took part in an August 23 webinar about the start of the school year.

Student work loads this school year will generally be the same as they were before the Covid-19 pandemic, although students will work more independently, rather than in groups.

Also, school buses will top off at about 40 students per trip, as a way to promote social distancing.

Those were two of many pieces of information about the upcoming school year shared August 23 by district officials during a one-hour virtual webinar.

About 890 families tuned into the webinar to hear details and ask questions about how opening day will look on September 9.

Schools Superintendent John Ravally stressed that the plans being discussed during teh webinar were valid as of August 23. He said they were subject to change, depending on actions by the state government, or federal health officials.

One of those actions was the announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier in the day that all faculty and staff, full- and part-time, would be required to either be vaccinated against the coronavirus by October 18 or submit to Covid-19 testing at least once or twice a week.

Ravally said the district stands ready to assist faculty and staff in either getting vaccinated or in setting up testing protocol.

He said that a survey sent out last week to the district’s 1,250 faculty and staff had been returned by 874 staff members, of which 794, or about 91 percent, said they had been vaccinated. That number represents about 64 percent of all staff members.

“We anticipate that as the surveys come in, we will see more staff who say they are vaccinated,” Ravally said.

“We pledge to work with staff members to make sure that every staff member has the opportunity to meet the vaccination requirement, or they’ll meet the testing protocols which will be detailed by the governor tomorrow in emails to superintendents,” Ravally said.

In talking about grading policies, Ravally said that student work loads will be about the same as they were pre-Covid-19, as will expectations of them by teachers.

One change in elementary classes, Ravally said, will be that students will do little moving around.

“We’ll move the teachers instead of the students,” he said.

There will be exceptions, Ravally said, such as art classes, where students will go into specialized rooms for instruction.

Speaking of the performing arts, Ravally said that students will be able to perform as they had pre-Covid, with a few modifications.

“Students will sing with masks,” he said. “We have purchased devices that can be put on instruments to control the spraying of aerosols.”

Physical education classes will mirror those of last year, with less-strenuous activities planned so students can wear masks, Ravally said.

“We have lots of activities that are less strenuous and more creative,” he said. “We are gong to try to get outside as much as possible. There were quite a few resources we could draw upon to give us suggestions as to how to do that.”

Orvyl Wilson, the district’s director of school management and advocacy, told parents about the limits on bus transportation.

He said that one student will be assigned to the smaller seats on buses and two students will be assigned to the larger seats.

“We are doing our very best to meet our cap of less than 40 students per bus,” Wilson said, although some buses are “oversubscribed.”

Wilson asked parents who would prefer to drive their student to and from school to notify their school principal.

Breakfast and lunch will be served in the schools’ cafeterias, Wilson said. He said breakfast will consist of pre-packaged foods, “with a selection of items similar to that of a traditional school year.”

Lunch will also have traditional items, but there will be no buffets, Wilson said.

Students in elementary and middle school will be assigned seats at cafeteria tables, while high school students will pick a table. They will sign in to their table by scanning a QR code, Wilson said.

“K-12, students will be expected to sit socially distanced at the tables, and we will mark the tables to assist them in figuring out that space,” he said.

“Each school has identified additional spaces in the school and have established outside eating areas to support the lunch and breakfast programs,” Wilson said.

Students in grades 6 to 12 will be able to use lockers in their schools, Wilson said.

“We intend on spreading students out, using the entire lot of lockers in each building,” he said. “Sharing lockers will be prohibited, and lockers will be periodically disinfected during the day and will be disinfected each evening.”

Water fountains will be off-limits, but students can fill water bottles at special filling stations, he said.

Brenda Sofield, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, said that there will be regular vaccination clinics for students older than 12 years.

She said the first one will be held from 7 a.m. to noon August 30 at Franklin High School. The Pfizer vaccine, which recently was given full approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration, will be the vaccine administered.

Parents can register for the vaccinations at the district’s web site.

Everyone will be required to wear masks while indoors, Sofield said. She said one advantage of being vaccinated is that vaccinated students will not need to be quarantined if they are exposed to someone with Covid-19.

Evelyn Rutledge, the principal of Franklin Middle School – Sampson G. Smith campus, said the only field trips that will be approved at teh start of teh school year will be for competitive clubs to attend competitions.

“The decision will be made for other trips during the second semester in December,” she said. “We’ll see how things go.”

“Our goal continues to be that of ensuring a safe return” for students and staff, Wilson said. “We all play an important role in returning our students to full-time, in-person learning. Adhering to mask requirements, vaccinations for everyone who is eligible to receive it, and an ongoing dialogue around Covid in our community.”

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