SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Preschoolers walking in line in the hallway, holding hands. Kindergartners sitting on the reading rug, listening to storytime. Middle schoolers gathering at the computer for a project. Assemblies. Filed trips. Labs.
In the new age of in-school instruction, South Brunswick School District Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder said all of those activities – and more – are gone.
“There is nothing we are talking about moving forward that is school as we know it,” he said.
Feder presented the district’s plan to reopen schools in September during a Board of Education special meeting on Aug. 6. However, he told more than 1,000 people who logged into the virtual meeting the plan will change as the state changes its guidelines.
Feder said South Brunswick divided its reopening plan into five phases.
Phase 5 is full remote learning, as the district followed in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phase 4 will have almost all of the students in the district learning remotely. There will be in-school rooms (called remote learning centers) for children who cannot stay at home. Busing will be limited and there will be no indoor lunch. There will be room capacity limits, social distancing, face covers required, temperature checks, and no contact athletics.
Phase 3 is a hybrid model, blending remote learning and in-person learning.
Phase 2 is a modified model where all students will be in school for full days.
Phase 1 is a regular model representing typical school.
On July 20, Gov. Phil Murphy said school district administrators must provide an option that permits parents who do not want to send their children to a school to select an all-remote educational plan.
Feder said the plan for South Brunswick is to begin the school year in Phase 4 and re-evaluate after the first three weeks of school, which is set to begin Sept. 8, and hopefully achieve Phase 3 quickly.
He said administrators will continue to monitor other school districts and other states. He said each phase will be like “boarding a plane,” step by step.
For Phase 4, the remote learning centers will be building-based, facilitated by staff members, but not individual classes. Small cohorted groups will be based on room capacity. Grades and classes can be combined. Lunch will be outside. Before- and after-school programming can be added.
The school day schedule would be as follows:
Elementary schools – 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for grades 2-5; 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for Kindergarten and first grade; lunch from 11:25 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; teachers report from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Middle schools – 9:05 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. for students, lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., teachers report from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
High school – 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for students, lunch from11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., teachers report from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Students will adhere to a strict schedule. Homework assignments would be due the next day, assessments would be virtual, and grading would be traditional.
The district will use various platforms, adaptive technology, instructional enhancement tools and content-specific digital tools for the virtual program.
Feder said most students are equipped with technology already, but anyone needing a device or internet connectivity will be assisted.
Regarding students and staff members who will be in a building, Feder said there will be face coverings required for all individuals, with face shields available for teachers, sanitizer, signs, barriers, gowns, spray and wipes, and gloves.
Administrators purchased electrostatic sprayers and HVAC ionic scrubbers. There will be day and night cleanings, and room sign-offs when disinfected.
Anyone arriving at school must have a mask on prior to entering the building. Feder said a child should be masked before getting out of their car or before getting onto a bus; a child who walks to school is expected to put on a mask before walking onto school property.
The superintendent said there will be outdoor mask breaks throughout the school day for children to take off their mask safely, but as per the governor’s orders, masks cannot be removed anywhere indoors.
He said parents are responsible for keeping their child home if the child has a fever over 100 degrees, traveled to a state that is on the quarantine list, or has any symptoms or had exposure to the virus. He asked parents not to fudge the pre-screening documents.
“If the answer is ‘yes’ (to a question about symptoms), they just can’t come (to school). The only way we are going to contain this is if parents keep sick kids home,” Feder said. “Kids are asymptomatic a lot of the time … so it’s about vigilance, it’s about not having house parties, it’s about not letting your kids go someplace where something is likely to occur.”
Feder referred to the start of outdoor sports on Aug. 3. He said of the 220 student-athletes who reported, 10 were sent home. He said six students had a fever, three had visited other states and one did not feel well.
“Ten kids from their home to the school who someone didn’t take notice,” he said.
As the ratio of sick children was about 5%, he said taking that from a pool of hundreds of students in a building, there could be dozens of children who would have to be put in an isolation area waiting for their parents to come and get them. He also said hundreds of students can be infected very quickly.
Any child who is sick will have to be in isolation for 10 days. On the 10th day, the child has to be fever-free for 24 hours, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a child has any symptoms, he or she also has to be isolated for 10 days.
Feder said those guidelines apply to a fever for any reason, not just COVID.
He said children cannot share supplies, there will have to be a determination of how students will travel through hallways, and the Department of Education requires every child to wash their hands at certain times of the day.
“The idea of having kids in school with these kinds of rules is really driving us a little bonkers,” said Feder, who has been advocating for state officials to open all indoor facilities and test the response prior to making children an “experiment” in schools.
For students who do not waive transportation, buses will be at 32 students maximum capacity. Students will sit, masked, near the windows, but if needed the aisle seat in a row with three seats could be used.
Feder said the entire planning process represents a significant financial undertaking, stating, “it’s a problem.”
He said the district is already losing $2 million this year and expects to lose $2.2 million next year according to the state aid regulations set forth by school funding legislation.
He said the expenses for personal protective equipment are already about $300,000. He said the district is experiencing revenue loss from the cancellation of summer camp, the loss of facilities rentals and smaller before- and after-school programs.
He did note the district received a $500,000 grant from Digital Divide, and some money from the federal CARES Act.
All things considered, Jennifer Diszler, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Administration, said students and staff members will be trained in social-emotional learning, including self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making as they return to school.
The bottom line, Feder said, is that it is very difficult to ensure health and safety as well as high quality education from inside the school buildings. He said he can make sure children are safe, and provide a decent education, but to merge both at this time is only accomplished with all students at home.
To continue the reopening conversations, forums will be held on Aug. 10 for the parents of elementary school students, and on Aug. 11 for the parents of middle and high school students. Information will be available at sbschools.org
Feder also said he would like to organize outdoor meet-and-greets for the students to meet their teachers before school begins.
Parents can contact Feder at email@example.com or Diszler at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com