The Princeton Public Schools will not open school buildings to students for in-person classes until Oct. 12, but preparations for that day have been basically completed – including the purchase of protective personal equipment for teachers.
That’s the message from Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso.
Given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent its spread, the schools will open in remote mode Sept. 14, but there are plans to bring students into the classroom under a hybrid learning model Oct. 12.
Hybrid learning is a combination of in-person learning and remote learning. Small groups of students will be brought into the classroom on different days of the week, splitting the number of days they will be in the building. On other days, they will study remotely. Some students will continue to learn remotely at all times.
To ensure student and staff safety when teachers and staff members are in school, the district has purchased and received 6,000 N95 masks. It has also received 10,000 ASTM Level 2 surgical masks and face shields for staff members, who will be trained in the most proper and effective way to use the masks and face shields, Galasso said.
“We will also provide gowns and traditional PPE for teachers and aides who work in our autism program, and in some special education classes where more protection is needed,” Galasso said.
When students are welcomed back into the schools, they will be required to wear face masks. Cloth masks are encouraged, but the district will provide masks for students who have forgotten them or who need an extra mask during the day.
Classrooms will be set up to maintain social distancing, including placing desks six feet apart from each other. Hand washing will be stressed, and there will be gallon-size pumps of gel sanitizers in each classroom for hand sanitizing. A sanitizer spray will be provided in each classroom for use on high touch areas.
The district also is emphasizing enhanced cleaning of high touch surfaces, such as desks, door handles and bathrooms. The buildings will need to be cleaner than they have ever been so that students and staff will feel comfortable returning to the classroom, Galasso said.
Bathrooms also have been updated to meet new standards. Hand blowers have been replaced with “no touch” paper towel dispensers, and the toilets have been modified for “touchless” flushing. In the elementary schools, only one student at a time will be allowed to use the bathroom.
Plexiglass dividers have been installed in the common areas in the main office and entrances to each school. There are dividers on the tables in the Princeton High School cafeteria to make it easier for students to eat a snack while they maintain social distancing. Lunch is not being served in the schools.
“The plexiglass dividers are an extra precaution. When we use them in conjunction with masks, hand washing and social distancing, they add an extra level of protection,” Galasso said.
School district officials also are committed to improving the ventilation and filtration systems in the schools because COVID-19 is airborne, he said. There are new HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) systems in four of the schools.
The district is installing ionization devices and making HVAC improvements, including using MERV 13 filters when possible. It has checked all existing HVAC operating systems in the schools that did not receive new classroom HVAC systems under the bond referendum.