The Cranbury School will begin the 2020-21 school year on Sept. 11 fully remote.
The Cranbury School District is moving forward with virtual instruction for all students through Oct. 16.
The reasons for the Board of Education’s approval to go to fully remote instruction include: the current inability to provide adequate teaching coverage regarding substitute teachers, facilities and ventilation, personal protective equipment (PPE) and staff who qualify as high risk for COVID-19, according to administrators.
“The district has received resignations from current substitute teachers since the pandemic. Given 100 staff members, we have only four substitute teachers employed and available for daily coverage as of Aug. 24,” said Karen Callahan, president of Cranbury Board of Education. “Without sufficient substitutes, the in-person instructional program would be at risk of being cancelled ‘at a moment’s notice’ due to the inability to cover classes which would significantly disrupt the continuity of learning.”
The district recently hired four additional substitute teachers and continues advertising for other substitute teachers. When it comes to school facilities, the district is developing a safe protocol.
“The district has an electronic door system throughout the school specifically designed for increased safety and security. We are currently developing a safe protocol to keep the doors open without damaging the physical integrity of the system. The target date for this to be rectified is Oct. 9,” she said. “Historically, the district has various HVAC issues that arise during the summer cooling season. These issues are addressed with as much immediacy as possible; however, fixes are often delayed as parts come in.”
In addition to school facilities and substitute teachers, the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to safely execute the arrival and dismissal of students has not yet arrived for the district.
The Cranbury School is also faced with about half of its staff qualifying for the high risk category for serious illnesses from COVID-19.
“Specifically, the plexiglass dividers are essential to this procedure since social distancing is not possible during this time. We anticipate the arrival of the PPE by Oct. 1,” Callahan said. “Approximately 40% of Cranbury School District staff qualify as high risk for severe illnesses from COVID-19 – either themselves, someone in their household, or both the staff member and someone in their household. Due to the small size of the Cranbury School District and percentage of high risk staff, we need additional time to confer with those staff members who may be seeking accommodations.”
The district expects to complete this process no later than Oct. 9. The re-evaluation process to decide whether fully remote learning continues past Oct. 16 will be ongoing to monitor the resolutions to the challenges referenced by Callahan.
“The administration and board are actively working in resolving these challenges while continuing to monitor the situation around the state. Our ultimate goal is to have our students begin the hybrid model of instruction as outlined in our original reopening plan,” Superintendent Susan Genco said. “If the challenges identified in the Reopening Plan Amendment are not appropriately addressed by the dates outlined, the administration and board will need to revisit the beginning of the hybrid model for a later date than anticipated.”
She added that the administration is actively working to resolve these issues and still believes the Oct. 16 date is realistic to resume in-person instruction.
According to reopening plan documents, remote learning will include a blend of live and recorded instruction, reading assignments, independent tasks and projects, and virtual small-group activities.
“Since the transition to remote instruction on March 13, we have been re-evaluating and re-envisioning the remote instruction model,” Genco said. “In July, the board approved changes to the 2020-21 school calendar in order to dedicate additional time for staff training and professional development to ensure our teachers have the ability to deliver enhanced remote instruction.”
The virtual class sessions will also consist of individual conferencing, small-group interactions, and, on rare occasions, whole class sessions.
“Regardless of the model, full remote or hybrid, a significant portion of the instruction will be delivered remotely,” she added. “We look forward to continued engagement with our school families throughout this process. As we continue to navigate through the next several months, we anticipate there will be frequent developments that may result in ongoing changes in our school community.”