School district officials have put the finishing touches on the Princeton Public Schools’ re-entry plan for students for the 2020-21 school year, and have sent the plans to the Mercer County superintendent of schools and the New Jersey Department of Education for approval.
The first day of school for students will be Sept. 14, which is a departure from the traditional first day of school occurring on the Wednesday after Labor Day. The holiday is Sept. 7, which would have meant opening schools on Sept. 9.
The preliminary school re-opening plan, which has been posted on the school district website at www.princetonk12.org, calls for a hybrid model that combines in-person and remote learning for students. It allows for fully remote learning for students who choose that option.
On July 20, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that parents will be given the option to select an all-remote learning plan for their children if they do not want to send their youngsters for in-person education in the new academic year. Additional details regarding this option are expected to be forthcoming from the New Jersey Department of Education.
Social distancing and space requirements are the driving force behind the move to a hybrid model of in-school and remote learning. A survey of parents conducted last month revealed that as many as 20% of students may not come back to the classroom, so remote learning will be provided for them.
Acknowledging that the hybrid plan will inconvenience parents who have full-time jobs, the district is working with the Princeton YMCA and other community agencies to provide childcare options for parents, said Barry Galasso, the interim superintendent of schools.
“The bottom line is, the learning community, the staff and the students are our top priority. The plans will be fluid and our plan may have to change,” Galasso said of the plan, which was unanimously approved by the school board at its July 28 meeting.
“If we do have to pivot to remote learning, it will be different than in the spring,” Galasso said. The district is ensuring that each student will be provided with a laptop or a tablet for remote learning by purchasing the equipment and distributing it to the students.
The school district is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for schools reopening, including masks and face shields, plexiglass dividers, daily health assessments of students and staff, handwashing or sanitizing stations, and weekly deep cleaning of the schools.
Staff members will wear masks,and the school district is encouraging parents to have all children wear masks or face coverings.
Visitors will be limited and on an appointment-only basis. Isolation areas will be provided in each school, and district nurses are being trained in contact tracing. All after-school activities and field trips have been canceled through January 2021.
Tents will be installed at all of the schools to provide outdoor classrooms during September and October. A decision on high school sports is expected to be issued Sept. 15.
The school district’s re-entry plan calls for pre-Kindergarten students to attend school five days per week, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. In-person classes end on Wednesday at 1 p.m., but remote learning continues until 3 p.m.
Students in grades K-5 will be divided into two groups. One group will attend school in-person Monday and Tuesday, and learn remotely Wednesday through Friday. The other group will attend school in-person Thursday and Friday, and learn remotely Monday through Wednesday.
In-person learning takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Remote learning will occur after dismissal until 3 p.m. This approach allows teachers and students to become accustomed to all-day remote learning if the schools have to be closed because of local COVID-19 or flu infections, school district officials said.
Students in grades 6-12 also will be divided into two groups, and attend classes in-person on alternating weeks – not alternating days. They will attend in-person classes from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. four days per week, and learn remotely after dismissal until 3 p.m. on the fifth day.
During Week A, students in Group A will attend school in-person Monday through Thursday, and students in Group B will learn remotely. During Week B, students in Group B will attend school in-person Monday through Thursday and students in Group A will learn remotely.
All students in grades 6-12 will learn remotely on Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
As with students in the younger grades, learning remotely one day per week will allow students and teachers to become acclimated to all-day remote learning if the buildings are closed for an emergency, school district officials said.
Special education students in grades K-5 who learn in self-contained classrooms will attend in-person classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Wednesday, they will be in class from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Special education students in grades 6-12 who are taught in self-contained classrooms will attend school five days per week from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. They will be in class Monday through Thursday. On Friday, they will attend school in-person from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Dismissing class at 1 p.m. allows the school district to provide bus transportation for students in grades K-12 every day. The pre-Kindergarten and special needs students will be bused home at 3 p.m., riding buses separately from the older students.
“We are in this together. This is a team plan. This is the Princeton community teaming up with the administration and staff to provide the healthiest and safest re-entry for both our students and our staff,” Galasso said.