Fair Haven teachers ready to welcome students for in-person instruction

FAIR HAVEN – The 2020-21 academic year in the Fair Haven Public Schools will begin on Sept. 9. The new year will see youngsters return to a school building for the first time since March.

New Jersey’s schools were ordered to close in mid-March by Gov. Phil Murphy at the start of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. For the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, students remained at home and received instruction remotely.

In Fair Haven, parents were given two options for the 2020-21 academic year: a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction at a school with a remote instruction component, and an all-remote instructional model in which students will not attend a school.

During the Aug. 26 meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Sean McNeil said the reopening plan was on track and that in-person instruction would be offered at the Viola L. Sickles School and the Knollwood School.

“The Fair Haven Public Schools remain on track to open our doors for in-person instruction according to the plan that has been laid out to the community over the past month,” McNeil said.

“Nothing about this has been simple. There are extremely serious issues, each of which require diligence, thought and care as if every student was our own and that every staff member was a member of our own family.

“I am incredibly grateful to our staff. While this plan has not been without its challenges, we believe we need to be here for your kids that we treat as our kids,” the superintendent said.

McNeil said the district’s enrollment stands at 987 children. As of Aug. 26, there were 65 pupils (K-5) whose parents had selected the all-remote instructional option. Administrators are moving forward with individual grade learning cohorts for each of those grade levels.

McNeil said sixth-graders whose parents selected the all-remote option will have an individual learning model for their grade level.

Administrators will use a mixed grade level approach for students receiving all-remote instruction in the seventh and eighth grades because of the low number of students in eighth grade whose parents selected that option.

The superintendent said administrators are working to make sure students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades will receive the full live instruction they need from appropriate certified content level teachers.

Administrators have hired teachers to instruct the remote classes, McNeil added.

McNeil said about 100 pupils in the school district (approximately 10% of the total enrollment) will receive all-remote instruction.

Regardless of which plan (hybrid or all-remote) a parent selected for their child, McNeil said the district is “primed” to support all of the students in the best way possible.

“We think we need to be back in school,” he said. “We have had a positive reaction from our teachers with our plan. They want to be back, but also to be safe. We think some form of in-person instruction is something students need and we are happy to be able to give them that in this hybrid way.”

As part of the district’s hybrid plan, Monday will be a remote day of instruction. Tuesday through Friday will have in-person instruction, with early dismissal, based on which cohort a child is in.

Students were placed in cohort A or cohort B based on where they live in the borough. Cohort A students will have in-person instruction on Tuesday and Thursday, while cohort B students will attend school on Wednesday and Friday.

McNeil said students will go through a normal schedule when they have all-day remote learning on Monday.

Teachers will provide students with assignments to do in the morning on the other two days they have remote learning, before having live remote instruction through Zoom in the afternoon after that day’s in-person instruction is over, the superintendent said.

Teachers and students will be required to wear a mask at all times when they are in  school. Students will have their own desk and will be socially distant from each other in the classroom.

Parents will be required to take their child’s temperature and fill out a questionnaire on the district’s PowerSchool application every time before a child goes to school. Teachers will be required to do the same.

During the summer, the district’s in-person instructional program for students who have special needs, learning disabilities and English language learners did not have a single COVID-19 case, and McNeil said he believes that success will help with the reopening for all students and teachers.

The summer instructional program had 55 students and about 20 staff members working together for six weeks.

“It was great seeing kids in the hallways and hearing them have fun being around their classmates again,” McNeil said. “It gave us more spark to reopen.”

Students who require certain special services will be permitted to have five days of in-person instruction as the new academic year begins.

Students who require an inclusion teacher or being in a resource room setting will follow the hybrid plan based on which cohort they are in, McNeil said.

Subsequent phases of the reopening plan will provide five days of in-person instruction with early dismissal. Later phases will provide five days of in-person instruction with a full-day schedule.

McNeil said Fair Haven’s administrators will be calm and steady with the reopening plan because they do not just want to reopen the schools; they want the schools to stay open for the entire year.

“This is our way back. It’s our first step back to that special place Fair Haven has always been, where children rush through the doors with smiles on their faces to greet their teachers, to see their friends and to learn and grow,” he said.