NORTH BRUNSWICK – School district administrators in North Brunswick have developed a hybrid plan for the reopening of schools, with splits between in-person and virtual (remote) learning.
Dubbed the “Destination: Return to School” plan, each grade level will be split into blue and gold groups per “Meets and Seats.”
“Meets” refers to Google Meets, the program the school district will use for virtual learning, and “seats” refers to children sitting at a desk in school. The first day of school will be Sept. 8.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, the blue group will be in person, while the gold group will learn virtually. Wednesdays will be a deep cleaning day, with all students learning from home. Thursdays and Fridays, the gold group will be in person, while the blue group will learn virtually.
Any parents who want their children to learn 100% remotely will have to sign a waiver and commit to that plan through at least November. This ensures the district can properly set up the number of children per classroom and how to rotate the hybrid model, Mary Ellen Engel, nurse supervisor for the North Brunswick School District, said during a July 29 Board of Education meeting.
For children in pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade, students will learn from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and then from 1:45-2:45 p.m. every day.
For children in grades seven through 12, students will learn from 7:45-11:15 a.m. and then again from 1-2 p.m. every day.
Students enrolled at Lightbridge Academy or Acelero for pre-Kindergarten will follow a 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. schedule every day.
Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said for the split shifts, students who are at school will be dismissed, pick up a grab-and-go lunch if applicable, and finish their last period at home. Students who are learning virtually will have the same gap period.
“We are changing to a new reality of dual platforms … that are being held simultaneously,” he said.
Zychowski said Project LEAL, run through the township, is exploring options for before- and after-school childcare for grades K-6 beginning in September, and administrators are looking at additional childcare partnerships for when students cannot physically be in school.
On a daily basis, parents will have to complete a symptom survey daily at the bus stop or prior to arrival at the school.
“Everyone in our school community has to do our part. We cannot come to work, we cannot come to school if sick. … Even if you have one symptom … this is not the time to tough it out, it’s the time to be protective … so we can keep our entire community safe,” Engel said.
The buses will run on a regular schedule. There will be reduced capacity due to the schedule model and remote learning, or from parents who wish to drive their children to school. Parents are encouraged to transport their own children and will have to sign a waiver.
Drivers and bus aides will be required to wear masks.
The buses will be disinfected between runs.
Zychowski said administrators will determine if they can transport students to their respective non-public school and parochial school routes. The number of available buses and drivers will determine that, he said.
Students will be required to wear masks while they are walking to school or at the bus stop, through the time they go back home.
Engel suggested students practice wearing their mask now before school begins.
There will be thermal checks at the door.
Students and staff members will be expected to maintain 6 feet of separation in classrooms, workspaces and common areas.
Students and staff members will be expected to cover any coughs or sneezes, refrain from touching others and not share personal items.
“We are all doing everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Engel said.
Should a student come to school with a temperature or symptoms, an isolation area will be maintained.
“I know it sounds horrible, but it’s the only way we can continue to educate children in person,” Zychowski said.
He said contact tracing will play a large role in determining if a school or the entire district will have to switch to 100% remote learning if someone tests positive.
In the event someone is infected, the students and most of the staff will be dismissed, a short-term closure will be planned, and all contacts will be quarantined/learn remotely for 14 days.
Zychowski said the Student Services Department will continue to examine options for students with unique learning needs.
There will be no field trips, no in-person large groups, no assemblies, virtual Back to School and parent-teacher conferences, guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education regarding security drills, no visitors unless it is an emergency, and no use of school facilities by outside groups.
The facilities will be cleaned to standards exceeding guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health, Zychowski said.
Classrooms, bathrooms, buses and high touch surfaces will be cleaned throughout the day with electrostatic cleaners and EPA-approved disinfectants, the superintendent said.
There will be hand sanitizer in every classroom and office, as well as disinfectant wipes, personal protective equipment for staff members, plexiglass in high traffic areas and signs.
Zychowski said the HVAC systems were updated last year so fresh air will be circulating throughout the buildings.
In terms of athletics, the NJSIAA pushed back its opening date for high school fall sports to Sept. 14. The North Brunswick school district canceled its summer recess conditioning program.
Zychowski said there will be continual reassessments based on directives by the state and the Department of Health.
He said the plan is also contingent on the number of families who select the all-remote option, the number of parents who waive transportation, the number of staff members who are unable to return to school, and, of course, if there is a COVID outbreak.
“We have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” Zychowski said, mentioning how administrators made the decision to abruptly close at 9 p.m. March 11 due to the coronavirus crisis.
Zychowski said it is unfortunate administrators are planning to open a new middle school without much fanfare.
“We built a brand new school on time, on budget, and we can’t show it off,” he said.
Board of Education members approved the reopening plan during the July 29 meeting and it was sent for county approval.
By Aug. 3 a plan will be in place and information will be posted at nbtschools.org
Zychowski said information will constantly change and be updated on the district’s website.