After a fully remote start, Millstone schools implement hybrid instructional plan


MILLSTONE – After beginning the 2020-21 school year with an unanticipated fully remote instructional plan, a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction has been implemented in the Millstone Township K-8 School District.

Sept. 15 marked the first day of the hybrid model and saw a cohort of students physically return to school for the first time since March, when the 2020 coronavirus pandemic led to the closing of all schools in New Jersey. A second cohort of students will begin in-person instruction on Sept. 17.

In the hybrid model, students whose parents selected that option will receive in-person instruction two days a week and remote instruction three days a week.

Students whose parents selected a fully remote instructional option will continue on that plan.

The physical return of students to Millstone’s schools followed an unplanned week of fully remote instruction that began on Sept. 9.

With the coronavirus remaining an issue, New Jersey school administrators were required to submit a 2020-21 reopening plan to the state Department of Education. Millstone administrators announced two options: the hybrid plan and the fully remote option.

However, in a letter dated Sept. 6 – three days before school began – Superintendent of Schools Christopher Huss and Board of Education President Melissa Riviello announced that all students would start the year by receiving fully remote instruction due to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) issues in the district’s three buildings.

Board members met on Sept. 11 to discuss the HVAC issues and to formulate a plan to return to in-person instruction as provided in the hybrid model. The issue was also discussed during a board meeting on Sept. 14.

During the Sept. 11 meeting, Huss said two HVAC units in both the Millstone Township Primary School and the Millstone Township Middle School were not functioning. At the Millstone Township Elementary School, 11 HVAC units were not functioning, eight of which were in classrooms that were scheduled to be used.

“We (the administration) accept responsibility for the mistake,” Huss said.

Riviello said the board became aware of the HVAC issues about Sept. 5 and hired an independent environmental consultant to inspect the buildings.

“A fact-finding mission is being conducted to see where failures may have occurred,” she said. “We want the trust of all parties involved. We will find where accountability lies.”

Huss said while some issues were still being worked on as of Sept. 11, all of the significant concerns had been addressed. On his recommendation, board members approved continuing the fully remote instruction through Sept. 14 and beginning the hybrid model on Sept. 15.

As part of the district’s plan, school is being conducted on a half-day schedule from Sept. 15-18. Beginning on Sept. 21, a full-day schedule will be implemented.

During both meetings, concerns about the administration’s handling of the HVAC issues were raised by the Millstone Township Education Association (MTEA), which represents the district’s teachers.

Although positive comments were made about Huss, the MTEA representatives stated their belief that other administrators did not properly ensure the HVAC systems were ready for the opening of school.

The comments from the MTEA representatives prompted board members who attended the the Sept. 14 meeting to ask for an improved relationship between district officials and teachers.

“It’s been a trying week,” board member Cynthia Bailey said. “We made a promise that we would finally make a solution. I hope we can continue to work together.”

Board member Christine Reese, who has worked as an educator, said, “We just want everybody back in school. Everybody is working toward the same goal.”

Reese and board member John Saxton made note of the board’s intent to investigate the HVAC issues.

“We will conduct a full analysis to get to the cause of what happened,” Saxton said. “Because it will be personnel matter, some parts may be invisible to the public.”

“We are not going to do it haphazardly,” Reese said. “That’s how mistakes are made.”