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Lawrence Township Public Schools will begin school year remotely

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Lawrence Township Public Schools students will be learning remotely for the first few weeks when they go back to school Sept. 8, based on the latest iteration of the school district’s re-opening plan.

The Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education approved the re-opening plan at its Aug. 12 meeting. Administrators hope to gradually bring students and teachers back together in the classroom over time and as COVID-19 conditions improve.

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Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun outlined the re-opening plan, which must be submitted to the Mercer County Superintendent of Schools and the New Jersey Department of Education, before the school board.

Under the first phase of the district’s multi-phase plan, teachers will be able to go into the schools and teach from their classroom immediately. Students will learn remotely from home, Kasun said.

For students whose parents must return to work, the district has arranged for all-day childcare through the Capital Area YMCA. There will be limited openings for childcare at the Lawrence Intermediate School and the Ben Franklin Elementary School for students in grades K-6.

The learning centers will be set up in the gym or other rooms that are not being used, and staffed by the Capital Area YMCA. Students will bring their laptop computers or tablets with them to the learning centers. They will receive the same lessons remotely that their schoolmates receive, with some help and supervision from the Capital Area YMCA.

The school day would begin between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., depending on the grade level, and end in the afternoon. Students will have time for a lunch break before “returning” to school.

The plan calls for elementary school students to receive a minimum of four lessons per week – two language arts lessons and two math lessons – that are taught by live instruction. They will also have instruction during their morning meetings at the start of the school day. Daily attendance will be taken during the morning meeting.

Students in grades 6-12 will participate in four class periods per day, taught by live instruction. Attendance will be taken during the morning meeting for sixth grade students, and at the start of each class period for students in grades 7-12. Students can ask questions during the lesson and at predetermined office hours and coaching time during the day.

Students also will have additional instruction through pre-recorded and self-guided activities. They can contact their teachers and work their way through the self-guided lessons.

Kasun said conditions would be reassessed every 30 days, with the goal of bringing the students back into school. If all goes well and conditions improve, the district can implement the hybrid model of learning, he said.

The hybrid option would bring small groups of students into the school building – properly socially distanced and wearing face masks – on different days and in different weeks. Students would be divided into Group A and Group B. A third group of students would continue to learn remotely at home.

Wrapping up the presentation, Kasun said the decision to provide remote learning “was not a light one.” Some families will be happy with the remote learning plan, and others will not like it, he said.

School board member Jonathan Dauber agreed with Kasun that the plan is not going to make every family happy or fit into their life “in a perfect way.” He said he realizes the complexity of the issue and that “it is a moving target.”

School board member Michelle King said that speaking for herself, she was in support of the “body of work” prepared by the administration. She said that while she believes the remote instruction program has improved since it was implemented in the spring, there is no substitute for being in a classroom.

“I am not excited that (remote learning) is the position we are promoting at the beginning of the school year. I want to work diligently to move along” to bring students back into the classroom in the hybrid model as soon as possible, King said.

King also said that she “truly hopes” that the learning centers will offer the assistance to working families that they need.

School board member Michele Bowes echoed Kasun’s comments that the recommendation and decision that is being made was not one that was made lightly.

“No one goes into this thinking this is the ideal situation, but this is the best situation, given the circumstances are in now,” Bowes said.

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