JACKSON – Administrators in the Jackson School District are hoping to have a plan in place by the end of July for the reopening of the district’s buildings 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 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 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.
Nicole Pormilli is spending her first summer as Jackson’s superintendent of schools planning for students and staff members to return during the health crisis. Administrators have surveyed staff members and parents.
“We surveyed our staff and our parents just to get a pulse for where everybody is sitting at this time, to see how they are feeling. We wanted to make sure we had a sense of how our community and our staff are feeling,” she said.
Pormilli said many opinions have been offered.
“You have people who are very nervous about a return, you have others who feel they would like to see their kids get back in some (manner) and you have some people who feel like they want everybody back to normal.
“That is kind of what we expected, different views from different folks, so it is hard to pinpoint just one view because you see multiple views come out in the results,” the superintendent said.
As of July 17, no decisions regarding the reopening of school had been made by the Board of Education. Administrators are hoping to share the plan, or at least the framework of a plan, with the public by the last week in July.
“We have to communicate (a plan) to all our stakeholders at least one month before school opens. We are aiming for the last week in July to be able to pull it all together as a framework for where we are headed so we can then hopefully be able to get some more details back to everybody and have them wrap their heads around what is in the best interest of their child, and to be able to then began planning the details of what a child’s schedule will look like,” Pormilli said.
“We know what good instruction is and what is good for kids, but we have to balance that with all the other pieces of the puzzle, all the guidelines regarding social distancing, not sharing materials, and obviously ensuring kids do not come to school sick, making sure we have the busing, and the availability of doing all the things the guidelines say have to match what we know is good instruction,” the superintendent said.
Pormilli said she has two primary concerns regarding the reopening of school.
“One, for my students and staff, the mental health piece is huge and we want to make sure we are addressing that. The emotional piece, people need to see each other, people need to reconnect, so that is a big piece of what we need to ensure is a priority in our planning.
“Then, obviously, the safety and health (of people), that has to be a priority. We have to ensure to the best of our ability that we are keeping people safe and healthy in our buildings.
“We have an incredible team (and) between our community and our team, we will come up with a plan that is in (everyone’s) best interest.
“It may not be the perfect plan we all hope we can do, but it is going to be what is in everybody’s best interest and what is realistic with the parameters we have to work around,” Pormilli said.