The East Windsor Regional School District is putting off hybrid in-person instruction until Jan. 19, 2021, because of the increased number of COVID-19 cases reported in the region, Superintendent of Schools Mark Daniels said.
The school district, which has opted for remote learning since school opened in September, had planned to move forward with hybrid in-person instruction Nov. 30, but put it off after observing a “sharp increase” in positive cases of COVID-19 during the past two weeks, Daniels said.
Between Nov. 8 and 20, there were 141 positive cases of COVID-19 in East Windsor and 29 cases in Hightstown. During October, there was a total of 64 cases in East Windsor and a total of 10 cases in Hightstown.
As of Nov. 20, there have been a total of 864 positive tests for COVID-19 in East Windsor and 205 positive tests for COVID-19 in Hightstown since the first reported cases in March.
“It is with a heavy heart that I share this news (of continuing remote learning), but I would not be fully honoring my responsibilities as superintendent to ignore these serious health statistics,” Daniels said.
“In order for our students to proceed with in-person instruction, conditions related to health and safety must be adequate,” he said.
“Therefore, I recommend that beginning Nov. 30 and through Jan. 18, all students will continue to follow a remote learning schedule. This includes those students in our autism and multiple disabilities class, who have been attending in-person since September. Their last day for in-person instruction is Nov. 25,” Daniels said.
Daniels based his decision on the arrival of the second wave of COVID-19, as anticipated. As a school district, there have been 21 positive cases of COVID-19 among students between Nov. 5 and 20 – and 16 of those cases occurred Nov. 15-20, he said.
So far this month, 20 staff members have needed to isolate for 10 days or quarantine for 14 days, Daniels said. Five of those 20 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. They are among 85 staff members who have had to quarantine for various reasons since September.
“Staffing challenges, stemming from the need for staff to quarantine due to elevated COVID-19 cases, continues to present real obstacles. So far this year, it has been very difficult to secure substitutes to cover classes,” Daniels said.
School district officials anticipate coverage concerns to grow “considerably” in the next few weeks as COVID1-9 cases and related quarantine recommendations increase, he said.
Daniels said the New Jersey Department of Health’s COVID activity level report for the central/west region, which includes Hunterdon, Mercer and Somerset counties, for the week ending Nov. 14 showed an increase in the positivity rate.
The risk level in New Jersey has been elevated from “moderate” to “high,” he said. For an activity level of 3 (high), schools are asked to consider implementing fully remote learning for students, he said.
Given the upcoming holidays in November and December, students and staff will likely travel and gather with their families, Daniels said. Pushing off the proposed reopening date also allows for a quarantine period related to the winter holiday season and potential increase in COVID-19 cases, he said.