School officials in Lawrence Township devise options for back-to-school learning

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The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education expects to take action on the school district’s re-opening plan at its Aug. 12 meeting – four weeks before the first day of school on Sept. 8.

The school board’s virtual meeting starts at 7 p.m. A link will be available on the school district website at www.ltps.org.

The plan, if approved, will be submitted to the Mercer County Executive Superintendent of Schools and to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Although the details are being worked out, the tentative plan calls for the school district to offer two options – a remote learning option in which students learn online, and a hybrid option that allows students to take part in in-person instruction and remote instruction.

There are pros and cons to every model, said Ross Kasun, the superintendent of schools.

“One of the biggest challenges in a full remote model is the potential loss of ‘face to face’ collaboration, discussion and sharing, which is an important part of the learning process,” Kasun said.

Families will choose the option they prefer. If it becomes necessary, the district will switch to remote learning for all students. The district has refined its ability to do so since it was forced to move to remote learning on short notice in the spring, Kasun said.

Students who choose the remote option will interact virtually several times per week with a teacher – live, scheduled classes with the teacher at a set time. The teacher will post assignments on a weekly basis, and provide feedback to students.

The hybrid model, which includes in-person learning as well as remote instruction, divides students into two groups, Group A and Group B. Within that option, there are two scenarios as to how to accommodate the students. In both cases, in-person instruction would be limited to four hours, and lunch would not be served.

In one scenario, students in Group A would attend class in person on Monday and Tuesday, and learn remotely Wednesday through Friday. Group B would attend class in person on Thursday and Friday, and learn remotely Monday through Wednesday.

Another scenario would have students attend class in person five days per week, but on an alternating week schedule. This means students in Group A would attend class in the school building for one week, and then learn remotely the next week. Students in Group B would be in class in school one week, and learn remotely the next week.

Social distancing would be maintained in the classroom by seating students 6 feet apart from one another. The number of students on a 54-passenger school bus would be limited to 11 to maintain social distancing.

Kasun said that when families were surveyed, about 40% asked for the remote learning option.

“That’s an important number to know,” he said, because it will create more space for students who want to have some in-person classroom time in the hybrid option. There would be 10 to 15 students per classroom, which allows for social distancing.

Students and staff members who take part in the hybrid model would be required to wear a face mask. The student’s family would be asked to provide the face mask. If there are special circumstances and a student is unable to wear one because of medical reasons, a doctor’s note will be required and accommodations would need to be considered.

Students in the hybrid model who do not have an appropriate face mask, or if their face mask gets wet or dirty, would be issued a face mask by the district. Students who do not comply with the mandatory face mask-wearing policy would not be allowed to take part in in-person learning.

Parents will be asked to fill out a daily health screening for their child. The staff will check students, which may include a temperature check, and confirm with the parents that the student is free of COVID-19 symptoms.

If a student develops COVID-19 symptoms while in school, he or she will isolated from other students until the parent or authorized adult arrives to take the student home.

“To be honest, there is not going to be an ideal plan that meets everybody’s needs. All plans need to change. A plan’s strength is its ability to pivot and change,” Kasun said.

On July 20, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that parents would be given the option to select an all-remote learning plan for their children if they do not want to send them for in-person education in the new academic year.

“The best plan is to have a strong remote plan in waiting, because on a dime, we are going to have to probably pivot and New Jersey will say we have to close down the schools like they did in the spring,” Kasun said.