MIDDLETOWN – Middletown Township Public Schools will be operating under a six-phase plan when the 2020-21 academic 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 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.
Murphy later directed school district administrators to provide an all-remote educational option for parents who do not want to send their children into a school.
Superintendent of Schools William O. George described the plan and said Phase I will start in the first week of September with teachers attending professional development courses.
Phase II will begin the following week and will center around teachers conducting re-entry meetings with their students either in-person or virtually. Administrators said the purpose of the meetings will be for teachers to connect with each student and discuss the child’s academic and emotional needs.
The first day of school on Sept. 14 will begin Phase III.
“Everything we do is based on the guidelines that have been handed down by the New Jersey Board of Education and the governor,” George said. “We are doing the best we can to provide our students with five days of learning instruction.”
George said administrators sent a survey to staff members, parents and students to obtain input regarding the reopening plan.
Administrators will send out another survey to determine how many parents will select the all-remote education option and how many parents will select the hybrid model of in-person and remote learning for their children.
Students will be divided into two groups based on their last name (Group A – last names A-K and Group B – last names L-Z).
Group A will attend in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday, while Group B will have in-person instruction on Thursday and Friday. In-person instruction will be four hours each day.
Grab-and-go meals will be available for students when they are in school and the district will make sure that students who require a reduced price lunch or a free lunch will have those services available to them, George said.
Wednesday will be a remote learning day for all students. Students will have online instruction on the other two days of the week when they are not receiving in-person instruction.
Teachers will be required to be in school all five days of the week, George said.
The school district will provide in-person instruction all five days for English as a Second Language students and for students who require special education services.
George said because class sizes are expected to be small, the district can follow social distancing guidelines and provide those students with the in-person instruction resources they need to learn.
Switching to online learning during the spring when schools closed was a smooth transition for Middletown, the superintendent said.
All of the schools in the district earned a silver level certification from the Future Ready Schools New Jersey Certification Program in 2018. The program is part of the New Jersey Department of Education and is designed to provide students with the digital tools they need to succeed with online learning.
Innovative learning is a primary part of the district’s curriculum, George said, and Middletown has continued to find ways to help students learn through different forms of technology and digital learning.
Middletown is a Google-based learning district, using platforms such as Google Meet, Google Hangouts and Google Classroom for online learning.
In addition to those digital learning tools, George said administrators are planning to use other platforms such as Zoom and Flipgrid moving forward because of the success some teachers and students had with those platforms during the spring.
“Our students are prepared for a virtual learning model,” George said. “We have multiple forms of data for each grade level and use it to put rigorous learning models in place to help our students be successful.”
All students will have access to an electronic device. He said administrators made sure each student had a laptop device of some sort before they started learning remotely in March.
George said the district purchased personal hotspots to make sure every student had internet access.
Students and staff members will be required to wear a face mask at all times when inside a building. If students ride a bus to school, they must wear a face mask.
The district will not provide any type of health screening for students before the children enter a school. George said it is up to parents to make certain their children are well enough to attend school.
“If students are sick, they need to stay home,” he said.
If Phase III proceeds without any issues, the plan states the district will start Phase IV around Oct. 12, with class sizes increasing and the number of hours of in-person classes being extended.
In-person classes will be extended to four days a week with parents having the option for their children to attend on all four days or to continue attending school two days a week.
Phase V will follow the same format with students who have been receiving only online instruction having the choice to return for in-person classes.
The final phase of the plan, if the state eases social distancing guidelines, will allow all students to have the choice to attend school in-person five days a week. The goal date for Phase VI is around Dec. 14, according to the reopening plan.