MILLSTONE – Administrators in the Millstone Township K-8 School District are planning to offer parents an option which would allow students to receive full-time remote (virtual) instruction when the 2020-21 school year begins 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 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.
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 Millstone Township, a presentation was released by the district on July 16 which explains the options under consideration for the reopening of schools. One option will be full-time remote instruction.
Millstone’s decision regarding full-time remote instruction predated Murphy’s July 20 announcement directing administrators in all of New Jersey’s school districts to provide a full-time remote learning option.
Students who opt for remote instruction will receive a district-provided Chromebook laptop computer. There will be a structured schedule of all classes taught by Millstone teachers and a remote back-to-school night for parents.
During a question and answer session hosted by the Board of Education on July 16, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Huss said a remote learning plan is being worked on.
“At this time, we have committees of paid teachers doing professional development on revamping our entire virtual plan,” Huss said. “It will include a schedule of at least four hours where students are required to attend a class at that time. It will be much more structured (than March through June), it will have an increase in the amount of FaceTime with teachers, students and peers.”
Huss said the plan had not been completed as of July 16 because it is going to be different for each of Millstone’s three schools: the primary school, the elementary school and the middle school.
“I can say that from the feedback on surveys, from staff and parents, that we conducted at the end of (the 2019-20 school year), we have a pretty good list of what needs to change (in virtual education), what needs to be done differently, what was done well and what will continue,” Huss said. “Obviously, the biggest thing is that people want more face-to-face synchronous learning, so that’s something we will continue to work on improving.”
District administrators said they are considering several options for parents who want to send their children to school for in-person education.
One option would be in-person education five days a week with the possibility of full capacity in a building. This option would require students to wear a face covering at almost all times because the option would not be conductive to social distancing protocols (including classrooms, where desks could not be spaced 6 feet apart if a school opened at full capacity).
District administrators said a face covering for students would only be required when social distancing is not practicable, although that is subject to change. Individuals who wish to wear a face covering throughout the entire day would be allowed to do so.
A second option being considered is a staggered schedule that would be intended to reduce a building’s capacity and follow social distancing protocols by incorporating a hybrid program of in-person and remote instruction.
In that scenario, classroom desks will be spaced 6 feet apart and social distancing will be practiced as much as possible, which is expected to allow students some opportunities to remove a face covering.
Two options have been proposed for a staggered schedule. In one, students will rotate every other day between in-person learning and at-home activities such as homework, projects and independent work on tech-based apps.
In the second, students will attend in-person sessions on Monday and Tuesday or on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be reserved for remote instruction for all students.
On days when students are at home, they will complete independent learning activities and projects and use tech-based apps, according to district administrators.
If a large percentage of parents select a full-time remote education for their children, the in-person attendance may be at a point where every child who returns to a school can be accommodated and social distancing protocols can be followed five days a week, district administrators said.
“Hand sanitizer will be ubiquitous,” Huss said. “It will be in every classroom, it will be in the hallways, it will be in every office and we will be encouraging hand washing as much as possible.”
Students who ride a bus to and from school will be required to wear a face covering because social distancing will not be possible on a bus with more than 11 students, according to district administrators.
Bus transportation will be made available for every student, but administrators will ask parents who do not need or want a seat for their child to waive their entitlement to transportation to help reduce the number of children on a bus.
For lunch, administrators said student eating spaces will consist of a combination of tables and unused classroom desks spaced 6 feet apart. If social distancing in lunchrooms is not practical because of the number of children attending school, additional spaces may be used and classrooms or outdoor dining may be considered.
Millstone parents are asked to complete a survey to help administrators fashion a reopening plan.
The survey can be found online at: docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfHpfA3ho9uNeSDp5lHM5iOHr2eGkB18TkNDVXJleTotLdeAQ/viewform?fbclid=IwAR1dKQWM_D_IiUC_PVOXGfEBUJXtxXD-1U_uS6ca9_fhWOwQ5O0zhIH2LYE