Aiming to help close the digital divide and help with childcare costs, an anonymous donor has contributed $249,000 to the Princeton Public Schools, Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso told the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education at its Sept. 9 meeting.
Galasso said the donor’s contribution will provide Internet access to 175 families and provide “hot spots” for families that may be unable to connect directly to the Internet. The families will be given unlimited Internet access through Comcast and T-Mobile at a discounted rate, whose costs will be covered by the school district.
The families will be given one year of unlimited connectivity to the internet providers so the students may participate in remote learning, Galasso said. The “hot spots” are in lieu of cable connections, since cable providers may not be able to “touch” every home in Princeton because of infrastructure issues, he said.
The anonymous donor also has contributed money to provide for 60 scholarships for childcare at the Princeton YMCA and 30 scholarships at the Princeton YWCA, Galasso said. This will enable parents who cannot work from home to go back to work without worrying about childcare costs, he said.
The donor’s contributions to provide childcare scholarships “will make a significant difference” in the children’s lives and in the lives of their families, Galasso said. Providing access to the internet also will make a difference to them, he added.
Meanwhile, the Princeton Public Schools opened Sept. 14 with remote learning, with the exception of two pre-kindergarten classes that began full-time, in-person learning with the district’s contracted private provider – the Burke Foundation Child Development Center at the Princeton YWCA.
Although school district officials would like to return to in-person learning as soon as possible, the district’s re-opening plan calls for elementary school students and special education students to begin a hybrid schedule Oct. 12, depending on circumstances.
Under the hybrid model, the elementary school students will be divided into two groups. The days that they attend school will differ, but each group will attend school two days per week and learn remotely three days per week.
Middle school and high school students will begin in-person instruction Oct. 19, depending on the circumstances. As with the elementary school students, they will be divided into two groups and attend school in person. Each group will attend school four days per week and learn remotely for the next six days. The weeks that they attend will differ.
Parents may also choose to continue with remote learning for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the 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 school day.
Classrooms will be set up to maintain social distancing, including placing desks 6 feet apart from each other. Hand washing will be stressed, and there will be gallon-sized 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. Hand blowers have been replaced in the bathrooms with “no-touch” paper towel dispensers, and the toilets have been modified for “touchless” flushing.
School district officials also are committed to improving the ventilation and filtration systems in the school because COVID-19 is airborne. There are new heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) 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 school district’s bond referendum.