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Freehold Borough school officials planning for students’ Dec. 14 return

FREEHOLD – Children in five special education classes have returned to the Freehold Borough K-8 School District for in-person instruction and district administrators are hoping regular education classes will resume in the schools on Dec. 14.

Since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all of the pupils in the district had been receiving instruction via remote lessons.

In early November, the members of the Board of Education approved an updated restart and re-entry plan.

One week later, children who are enrolled in five special education classes at the Freehold Learning Center elementary school began receiving a combination of in-person and remote instruction.

Those children became the first pupils in Freehold Borough to receive in-person instruction since March, when the 2020 coronavirus outbreak initially struck New Jersey and schools closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Before a mid-November increase in the state’s reported coronavirus cases, district administrators set Dec. 14 as the date when the remainder of the district’s pupils may begin to receive in-person instruction, while they continue to receive some remote instruction.

As of Dec. 14, parents will have the option for their children to continue to receive instruction on a 100% remote basis.

Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic said students whose parents select the hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction will be divided into two cohorts.

One cohort of children will receive in-person instruction on Tuesday and Thursday and the second cohort of children will receive in-person instruction on Wednesday and Friday. In-person instruction on Monday will alternate each week between the two cohorts.

Tomazic said that as of mid-November, 63% of the district’s parents wanted their children to attend school in-person. The remaining parents wanted their children to stay on a fully remote education.

Freehold Borough administrators were planning to begin the 2020-21 school year with a combination of in-person and remote learning, but that plan did not materialize after they identified two significant issues: the lack of physical barriers between students to limit the possible transmission of the virus, and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filtration systems, according to Tomazic.

Those issues have now been addressed and Dec. 14 remains the date when hybrid learning is scheduled to begin.

However, Tomazic said in a Nov. 20 letter that the district may abandon its hybrid plan and continue with 100% remote instruction if it is advised to do so by the Freehold Borough Health Department.

Tomazic noted that the COVID Regional Risk Assessment recently placed Monmouth County in a high risk category for the virus. He said if Monmouth County or the school district is identified as having a very high risk for the virus, Freehold Borough will continue to use 100% remote instruction.

“We have made extensive preparations to ensure our schools are safe to operate,” the superintendent said. “This has included the installation of bipolar ionizers for air filtration, thermal imagers to detect fever, plastic barriers for social distancing, health questionnaires to assist families in screening students at home, and procedures in the schools to minimize risk and maintain social distance parameters.

“These preparations notwithstanding, we remain alert and mindful of the level of outbreak in the community and will make decisions based on that data with guidance from our local health officer,” he said, asking parents to “please remain flexible and ready to adjust to a wide range of contingencies as they may arise.”

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