JAMESBURG–Interim Superintendent Dennis Filippone announced that the Jamesburg Public Schools District will implement a fully virtual reopening plan through Nov. 1.
“On behalf of the Jamesburg Board of Education, administration and staff, I will do my best to give you the latest information on the reopening of schools in September,” Filippone said in a prepared statement. “Please understand that all of the changes and unknowns that I will explain in this letter have not been caused by the board or the administration here in Jamesburg.”
In late June, Filippone said the school district received guidance from the Department of Education (DOE) outlining what standards schools needed to meet to reopen. The school district developed a plan for a hybrid-only model with students attending school in person two days per week.
“The guidance from the state at that time was that no plan that involved a fully virtual option was acceptable,” Filippone said in the statement. “In mid-July, the DOE provided us with new guidance mandating that we offer a virtual choice to our parents. We did surveys and almost 40% of our parents chose the virtual option.”
At a board meeting in July, Filippone presented the proposed reopening plan to the board and the public. The plan included both the fully virtual and in school options. The plan was submitted to the county superintendent and was approved the first week in August.
From June 1 through Aug. 12, Filippone said the DOE was clear that an in-person option must be offered. During his Aug. 12 press conference, the governor once again changed his position to allow school districts that meet certain standards to go fully virtual.
“Jamesburg will be filing a plan … that we hope will allow us to open schools on a fully virtual platform for the month of September,” Filippone said in the statement. “This will allow our district to meet all of the standards set forth in the reopening plan and to train our teachers in all of the safety and online teaching protocols we have developed.”
Filippone said he knows that having students receiving full-time instruction at home will create a burden for many parents, but from the beginning of the district’s planning, providing a safe and healthy environment for students and staff was the district’s first priority.
In an unanimous vote, the board approved a resolution to authorize that the school district will use a fully remote/virtual learning model until Nov. 1.
An important fact that parents should understand, Filippone said, is that the state is currently still in stage two of its reopening plan, which indicates that stage three is the point at which that higher education may operate in person with reduced capacity.
“So, asking us to bring students into our building at this point is actually in contradiction to the state’s plan for reopening the experiences of educational organizations throughout the country,” Filippone said.
At this point in time, Filippone said more than 90% of the school districts in Middlesex County are requesting a virtual/remote opening.
One of the reasons why the district needs more time, Filippone said, is due to the school buildings being old.
“In order to meet the guidelines, we need to upgrade some parts of our ventilation systems and most of what we need to do is upgrade the filters in our unit ventilators in classrooms, in newer spaces like our gymnasiums, and in our … guest areas,” Filippone said. “Those have rooftop unit ventilators that meet the current standards for the classroom unit ventilators, some of them are significantly older than you would like. In the need to have upgraded filters, we ordered those filters in a timely fashion.”
Unfortunately, Filippone said the district was told by a company that is providing the filters that they’re hoping to have them delivered for the middle of September, but they can’t promise the district that.
“We’ve really been working very diligently to find alternative ways to do that and what we found is a proved spray believe it or not, that you can spray on to Merv-8 or Merv-10 filters that we can get and they increase the ability to turn and basically turn those filters or 13,” Filippone said. “The difference between a Merv-10 and number 13 is that the Merv-13 filter out bacteria and virus. So, they’re pretty important.”
Although the district has enough personal protective equipment (PPE), Filippone said the district wants to stockpile more PPE for its staff and students.
“Right now we have enough sanitizer wipes and masks to go around for all of our students and staff for the month of September, but in the same vein, we have been told by our suppliers not to expect the shipments in October, because there is such a shortage of those items,” Filippone said. “So, we want to be able to start school with enough of that PPE for students so that we can sustain school once we get opened up.”
Filippone said the district would like more time to better training its staff in terms of handling safety protocols.
“So our plan moving forward is that our phase one will be a reevaluation of our ability to meet all safety requirements. We want to survey parents as to which option, hybrid [or] virtual, they’d like to choose at that point, message out cohorts and schedules. We want to start that process in October. There’s a lot of work to be done there.”
Filippone said the district will base phase two of its reopening plan on its progress and with input from all school and health professionals, as well as, parents, students will return utilizing their true hybrid-virtual schedule hopefully on Nov. 1.
“We need to do this so you, our parents, will be able to plan accordingly. If the state does not approve our request, we will begin school in the hybrid/virtual model found on our website,” Filippone said in the statement. “I know how confusing and frustrating this must be for you. The changes in schedules and programs make your planning so difficult, but understand that you are not alone; parents and teachers throughout the state are experiencing the same frustration.”
One important thing, Filippone said he can tell everyone, is that the district’s school start date for students will be moved from Sept. 3 to Sept. 8.
“Soon I will b able to tell you with certainty what your child’s schedule will be in September. Until then I will do my best to communicate with all community stakeholders on a regular basis,” Filippone said in the statement. “No matter how difficult, and regardless of the sacrifices we all must make, we as a school community must get this right and the board and administration here in Jamesburg will do all that we can to ensure the health and safety of our staff and students.”
For more information, visit www.jamesburg.org/# and click under “district news.”