HOWELL – The Howell School District will begin the 2020-21 academic year on Sept. 10 by welcoming a majority of the students who are enrolled in the district back for in-person classes.
Howell’s schools closed in mid-March as the 2020 coronavirus pandemic took hold in New Jersey. The buildings never reopened during the 2019-20 school year. Students received remote instruction at home from March through June.
September will mark the return of teachers and children to Howell’s schools.
The district’s parents had two options available to them for the 2020-21 school year:
• An all-remote option that will see children receive instruction at home over a computer;
• A hybrid model that will see children attend school two days a week and receive instruction at home on days when they are not in school.
Administrators said 70% of the district’s parents opted for the hybrid model and 30% of the district’s parents opted for all-remote instruction.
The school district’s estimated enrollment for Oct. 15, 2020 is 5,600 students, according to a budget document posted on the district’s website.
District administrators said children in pre-kindergarten through second grade can attend school four partial days a week using an “in school” cohort to maintain social distancing.
Children in grades three through eight will use an A/B cohort model with two days in school each week and three days of remote instruction each week.
During a Board of Education meeting on Aug. 26, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Isola said the district plans to open and to be responsive to the community’s needs.
“We will be opening in a couple of weeks, but we also know it may look different rather quickly, it may be stable for sometime. We don’t know, but we ask the community to be patient and remain flexible,” he said.
Isola said the district will be prepared to pivot to an all-remote model of instruction if conditions require that change to be made.
Regarding the effort to reopen the schools, he said, “Our teachers and our staff have truly been partnering with us to get this work done in a way that makes us proud and I know the board joins me in that sense of pride. Because I know not every school district is able to say that and I certainly feel pride in that statement.”
Isola addressed questions during the meeting, which was live-streamed to the community as the board members met in person at the Howell municipal building.
One resident asked how it would be OK to bring staff members back to school when all of the board members were not at the in-person meeting and members of the public were not permitted to attend.
Isola said the mix of in-person and remote instruction would allow administrators to bring staff and students back to the schools.
“We believe this (plan) is responsive to the community’s needs and we believe we can do it in a safe and healthy manner,” the superintendent said.
In regard to parents dropping off and/or picking up their children at school instead of allowing them to ride a bus, Isola said the administrators at each school have developed a plan to accommodate drop-offs and pick-ups.
In regard to a higher than normal number of staff members requesting time off at the beginning of the academic year, Isola said there have been more staff members opting to do that than in a typical year.
“We believe we will have enough staff,” the superintendent said.
Regarding students who may experience difficulty with remote instruction, Isola said he does not believe that situation will be any different from what a child’s teacher would do in a typical school year.
“All of the resources available to the administration remain at their fingertips and there are even additional resources to support not only students, but families that are struggling,” he said.
Regarding busing, Assistant Superintendent for Business Administration/Board Secretary Ronald Sanasac said, “We have about 30% of students who have indicated they will be staying remote.
“That (decision by parents) reduces the number of possible students on the buses to begin with, and then we have the cohorts which in essence splits the remaining number of students in half.
“We are looking at about 25% to 30% of the students possibly riding a bus on any given cohort day. That (number) should put us in the range resembling social distancing on most buses,” Sanasac said.
The Howell K-8 School District operates Adelphia Elementary School, Aldrich Elementary School, Ardena Elementary School, Greenville Elementary School, Griebling Elementary School, Land O’ Pines Elementary School, Memorial Elementary School, Newbury Elementary School, Ramtown Elementary School, Taunton Elementary School, Howell Middle School North and Howell Middle School South.