MILLSTONE – Students in the Millstone Township K-8 School District whose parents select the option are scheduled to return to full-day, in-person instruction on Oct. 26.
On Oct. 13, Board of Education members voted to begin the third phase of the district’s reopening plan during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Parents were given a choice to have their children attend school every day beginning Oct. 26 or to have their children remain at home and receive fully remote instruction. Parents had to inform district administrators of their choice by Oct. 16.
Parents who opt for in-person learning will send their children to school Monday through Friday on a full-day schedule.
The third phase is scheduled to begin on Oct. 26, provided the district receives personal protective equipment administrators said is necessary to allow them to fully reopen the district’s three schools.
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 prior to the start of the academic year.
Millstone administrators implemented a plan in which the first two phases offered a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction for parents who selected that option. In the hybrid model, students received in-person instruction two days a week and remote instruction three days a week.
During the first two phases, parents had the option to select an all-remote instructional model for their children.
The third phase of the reopening plan will see the end of the hybrid instructional model. In-person instruction will take place five days a week for children whose parents choose that option. Parents may also choose to keep their children on an all-remote instructional model.
A potential move toward the third phase was presented to board members during their Oct. 13 meeting. Board members initially set Nov. 16, which is the beginning of the second marking period, as the start date for the third phase.
However, residents who spoke to the board by phone and in person during the meeting requested that the third phase begin as soon as possible.
Many parents who addressed the board and Superintendent of Schools Christopher Huss said waiting another four weeks until Nov. 16 would cause more harm to their children’s educational performance and their social and emotional well-being.
Some parents who spoke said they understand the coronavirus is still present and still poses a health risk, but they said their children are regressing and are being harmed under the current instructional model and need to return to school full-time as soon as possible.
One parent said she and others were prepared to initiate legal action if the board did not act immediately to return children to the schools on a full-time basis.
Other parents criticized the hybrid model, but not the effort being made by the district’s teaching staff. The parents said the hybrid instructional model is inferior to the fully remote instructional model some parents selected and is hindering their children’s education.
Board member Billy Hanson said the hybrid model is creating a greater burden on teachers.
“The hybrid has been a big challenge for (the teachers),” Hanson said. “It requires them to do double work. They have to prepare for virtual students and prepare for live-learning students. The amount of work teachers have had to do this year is basically double of what they usually have to do.”
Some parents asked for a live-streaming option in which students who are at home would see their teacher live in a classroom at the same time the teacher is instructing children in the classroom. Huss said that for various reasons, live-streaming is not an option for the district.
After listening to what parents had to say, board member Christine Reese agreed that the third phase of the district’s reopening plan had to begin sooner than Nov. 16.
“We have heard from numerous members of the community that the (hybrid) system is failing. It’s not the teachers’ fault, it’s not the school district’s fault, it’s what we were dealt.
“We tried to make lemonade out of lemons and we failed. Nobody can be blamed for that. But now we are recognizing the failure and we need to do what we can to make it better. Making it better is getting these kids back to school as soon as we can,” Reese said.
While Huss reasoned that the hybrid model was successful in preparing the district for a full schedule of in-person instruction, he said he understands Millstone needs to move forward.
A motion to begin the third phase of the reopening plan on Oct. 26 was made by board Vice President Cynthia Bailey.
Before Oct. 26 was confirmed as the start date, Hanson made a motion for the third phase to begin on Nov. 9 in case the district is not prepared by the earlier date. That motion only received support from Hanson.
Board members then approved the motion to begin the third phase of full in-person instruction and full remote learning on Oct. 26. Bailey, Reese, board President Melissa Riviello and board members Peter Bonafide, Shannon Pulaski, Amrita Singh and Mary Waskovich voted in favor of the motion; Hanson abstained.