Proposed hybrid reopening schools plan will bring teachers, staff and students in-person three times a week in Old Bridge

OLD BRIDGE – Old Bridge public school officials presented their proposed hybrid reopening schools plan, which bring teachers, staff and students in-person three times a week.

In the proposed plan, the 8,500 students will be split up alphabetically in sections A, B, and C. A section will learn in-person on Mondays while sections B and C will learn remotely, B section will learn in-person on Wednesdays while sections A and C will learn remotely, and C section will learn in-person on Fridays while sections A and B will learn remotely. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be district-wide remote learning days for students and staff.

Preschool is proposed to be split into morning and afternoon sessions.

Schools Superintedent David Cittadino presented the district’s The Path Forward Plan at a virtual forum on July 28. The Old Bridge Board of Education voted to approve the plan at a special meeting on July 30.

Board President Kelly Ellis-Foster, Board Vice President Jill DeCaro, and board members Theresa Burns, Jill Cali and Sal DiPrima voted in favor of the proposed plan while board members Richard Dunn, Salvatore Giordano, Lisa Lent and Matt Sulikowski abstained from the vote.

Cittadino prefaced the forum by stating the decisions the district makes as far as a reopening plan will not make everyone happy. He said the best piece of advice from a mentor early on in his superintendent tenure was to “always err on the side of protecting children – if you do that then you’ve done your job.”

And to make sure the district’s 8,500 students and 1,500 staff members enter a safe place as the 2020-21 school year begins on Sept. 4, Cittadino said with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines all they know is the difference between March 2020 when schools closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and August 2020 is wearing a mask has proven to reduce the number of coronavirus cases.

All staff and students will be required to wear masks when on a school bus or when in a school facility. Exceptions and modifications will be in place for special medical circumstances. The district will provide two washable cloth masks per student and staff, and masks will be available if a staff member or student needs extra.

A 54-passenger school bus is proposed to carry 11 students. Transportation will practice regular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, including surfaces in the driver cockpit. Students are expected to practice social distancing and avoid touching surfaces.

“My greatest nightmare is someone contracts [COVID-19] in the student body and staff and it negatively impacts their family,” Cittadino said.

With the mandate from the state to present an in-person back-to-school plan, Cittadino said the district is tasked to follow the mandate. He said a re-entry task force was put together, which included administrators, teachers, parents, and staff including personnel from transportation, maintenance, custodial, nurses, and food service.

The district sent out a family survey to get an idea of how families felt about returning to school, what families would like to see in the approach to learning and their top three concerns on returning to school.

The district received 3,618 responses, which represent 5,486 students.

Some 48% of families feel “somewhat or very uncomfortable” returning to school, 43% of families feel “somewhat or very comfortable” returning to school and 9% were neutral.

Some 41% of families would like to return to 100% in-person learning, 37% of families would like a hybrid approach, and 22% of families would like 100% remote learning.

The top three concerns for families returning to school included children and staff coming to school sick, cleaning and disinfecting and social distancing in the classrooms.

The district also sent out a staff survey and received 1,018 responses.

Some 54% of staff members are “somewhat or very uncomfortable” returning to school, some 36% of staff members are “somewhat or very comfortable” returning to school, and 11% were neutral.

Some 92% of staff would feel “more comfortable” returning to school if both students and staff members are required to wear masks.

The top three concerns for staff members returning to school included general health and safety guidelines, screening, personal protective equipment and response to student and staff presenting symptoms, and student flow, entry/exit and common areas.

Cittadino said the goals for the district path forward plan include maintaining the health and safety of students, staff and the community, maximizing and individualizing student learning, supporting teachers and staff with appropriate professional resources to maximize student learning and interaction and establishing a sound operational and financial foundation for the district for the 2020-21 school year and beyond.

In the proposed hybrid plan, students will be attending school in-person at a 33% capacity district-wide. All in-person days will be a half-day schedule for all grades – elementary schools from 9:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., middle schools from 8 a.m. to noon and high school from 7:35 a.m. to 11:44 a.m. Students will be paired with their siblings in the same sections to the greatest extent possible.

After in-person days, teachers will begin remote teaching for the students at home during afternoon hours. Students are expected to sign in and report to instruction on remote learning days.

Breakfast will be available in homeroom and students will receive grab and go multi-day meals on in-person learning days. Meals will be available for pick up at several district locations for remote learning students. Snacks may be brought from home or provided to students where appropriate.

James Tuohy, executive director of educational programs in Old Bridge, said the hybrid plan allows the district to scale increase as health guidelines allow from 33% to 66%.

The proposed hybrid plan provides concentrated and direct instruction English, reading and mathematics as well as other core content areas necessary for elementary skill building through high school graduation requirements.

The proposed hybrid plan and 100% remote plan will allow students to check-in “live” with their teacher, have teacher recorded video lessons, teacher led remote small group activities, online, self-directed learning activities, and services for students in special education, response to intervention and English as a second language.

Funds through the CARES Act allows the district to provide 1:1 Chromebook devices and 1:1 Wi-Fi connection for students in the elementary through high school levels. The district plans to use Microsoft Teams to streamline the use of platforms and provide consistency across grade levels.

Cittadino said parents will be allowed to opt their child out of the proposed hybrid plan into the 100% remote plan; however, parents who decide to opt into the proposed hybrid plan after school begins will have to wait until the end of the first marking period.

Health, safety and facility cleaning

Prior to entering the building all staff and students will have a wellness check, which include survey questions and a temperature check. All staff reporting to work will self-check their temperature within the vestibule of the building.

Student temperatures will be screened prior to disembarking from a school bus, a parent/guardian driving away at car drop off zone, and/or student entering the school from walking areas, designated entry ways.

Staff who screen with an elevated temperature above 99.9 degrees will immediately return to their car and contact their immediate supervisor via cell phone.

Students who screen with an elevated temperature above 99.9 degrees will be escorted to an isolation tent for review by the school nurse.

Students and staff exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 [during in-person school days] will report to the designated isolation area for observation and in the case of students, transportation home.

All district facilities will be cleaned with an Environmental Protection Agency registered and approved disinfectant to kill germs. The district uses diversey disinfectant – Virex II 256 or Alpha HP. Surfaces used and touched will be cleaned daily. Deep cleaning of all facilities will be done on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Next Steps

The district’s The Path Forward Plan presentation is on the district website at oldbridgeadmin.org. The district will provide a frequently asked question sheet. Additional questions and concerns can be sent to covidreentryquestions@obps.org