HVRSD steers through challenge of school closures during coronavirus pandemic

ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF

Navigating the coronavirus pandemic has not been an easy task for school districts statewide during the 2020-21 school year.

Since beginning the school year with in-person instruction, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) has faced several school closures due to confirmed COVID-19 cases, but those schools have been able to reopen with in-person instruction after safety protocols were completed after a positive case is confirmed.

The school closures have occurred at four of six schools in the district: Hopewell Valley Central High School (1), Toll Gate Grammar School (1), Hopewell Elementary School (1), and Timberlane Middle School (TMS) (1).  Bear Tavern Elementary School and Stony Brook Elementary School are the schools that have not had to close so far.

TMS was the latest school closure, which went into effect the week of Oct. 16, the school has since resumed in-person instruction.

“Following our district protocols, TMS was closed for two days to complete contact tracing and deep cleaning. We noted no additional cases, so we were able to reopen,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said.

For the district administration, the number of closures and school reopening’s that have happened so far this year have been better than what was anticipated when the school year began.

“We expected more and longer closures. Parents and staff have been very supportive of our process and I think we transitioned to remote in the impacted schools fairly smoothly,” Smith said. “I think we have shown that we can effectively deal with these issues as they come up. We don’t plan on altering our in-person instruction unless instructed to do so by the New Jersey Department of Health or the governor.”

The district’s protocol if a confirmed case appears with a student, teacher or staff member is as follows: the school where the individual attends or works will close for two to five days for deep cleaning and contact tracing. Class instruction will transition to remote learning during that period. No other schools in the district are to close, only the school where the individual attends or works.

If a student who is positive has siblings or a teacher is in multiple schools, the district may then expand the closure to include additional schools.

To start the academic year on Sept. 9, the district provided in-person instruction and fully remote learning options for families to choose between.

The first option was the in-person, through an A and B day schedule, which allows half the student populations in each of the six schools to come into the school on alternating schedules in the certain mornings of each week.

“We are generally pleased with how our programs are running. Based on anecdotal, survey and committee feedback, the majority of people are satisfied with our current program,” Smith said. “We have identified a few areas on the secondary and elementary level that we would like to tweak. Assuming the committee supports this, the changes will be rolled out over the next two months.”