FREEHOLD – Early next month, the Freehold Borough K-8 School District Board of Education is scheduled to release a final plan for reopening the district’s schools in September.
New Jersey’s schools were ordered to close in mid-March by Gov. Phil Murphy at the start of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. For the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, students received a remote (virtual) education at their homes.
Several weeks ago, Murphy directed school administrators to develop, in collaboration with community stakeholders, a plan to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year in September in a manner that best fits a district’s local needs.
In a press release, the governor said, “This has been an unprecedented time for our students and educators, but we are pleased to announce we anticipate the return to our classrooms in some capacity this fall.
“The return to school will pose challenges, but we are confident New Jersey’s school districts can move forward in a way that best serves the needs of their district while also achieving a safe environment for students and staff,” Murphy said.
Guidance from the governor’s office describes the health and safety practices administrators should prioritize, including social distancing, the wearing of face masks, limiting capacity in classrooms and an increase in sanitation and disinfecting of surfaces.
In Freehold Borough, Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic said that as of July 15, board members had not made a decision regarding the reopening of the district’s three schools.
The district’s re-entry committee, made up of district stakeholders, is working on a draft re-entry plan that is due to the public in the first week of August.
To assist the district in reopening its schools, a survey was created for parents that is scheduled to close on July 20.
Tomazic said that according to the current survey results, a majority of parents are in favor of students attending school on alternating days where half of the students will receive in-person instruction and the other half will receive virtual instruction depending on the day.
For 2020-21, Tomazic acknowledged that administrators are looking to safely provide a degree of in-person instruction.
“We are working to provide some degree of in-school instruction in a safe and efficient manner, as currently required by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE),” the superintendent said.
“Our parents should know, however, that based on the overall health situation statewide, and in our community, the plan might get more restrictive, or alternatively be at the point that we can move to less restrictions. The plan is variable based on guidance from the governor and the DOE,” he said.
Among administrators’ concerns, according to Tomazic, is the potential loss of more state aid.
As a result of the financial impact the pandemic is having on New Jersey, Freehold Borough is scheduled to receive $15.92 million in state aid for 2020-21, a decrease of $1.43 million from the $17.35 million that district administrators were originally told they would receive.
Administrators are also concerned about whether the DOE will allow students to receive all of their required instruction virtually, and ensuring the safety of students and staff members during the school year, according to Tomazic.
“We are concerned that we do not lose any more state aid with the revised fiscal year 2021 budget process,” he said. “We are looking for the DOE to confirm that parents actually have the option to opt out of in-school instruction based on their preferences and still have the 100% virtual school days count for the 180-day yearly requirement. We want to make sure our procedures and practices placed into operation maximize student and staff safety.”