Administrators in the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District will use Jan. 4, Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 – the first three days schools will be back in session following winter break – “to determine if there are any staffing issues, as well as to assess the level of (coronavirus) infection in the student population,” according to Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr.
Instruction on those days will be presented to all students in a fully remote manner.
“On Jan. 6, the community will be informed of our intentions for moving forward. If all is well, we will return for in-person learning in the hybrid model as was in place” prior to the winter break, Marciante said.
“It is quite possible conditions might be different in various buildings which would lead to some buildings returning to in-person learning and others remaining in remote learning for a specific length of time, which would be announced on Jan. 7.
“In addition, the district is working on a plan to bring back classified students as well as some students with 504 plans (a plan for children who have a disability) in grades three through five.
“The specifics of the plan as well as the implementation date will be announced in January. … The situation is fluid and plans can always be impacted by the changing situation on the ground,” Marciante said.
The issue of what type of instruction to have in place immediately after winter break – fully remote instruction or the hybrid model that combines in-person instruction and remote instruction – was a topic of discussion during the Dec. 15 meeting of the school district’s Board of Education.
As of that date, Marciante said, he did not have data for January regarding how many staff members or how many students would be impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He did, however, say the safest place for a child “is sitting in class, socially distanced and wearing a mask.”
The school district has been operating with a hybrid model for students whose parents selected that option at the start of the 2020-21 school year. Some students have received 100% remote instruction if their parents selected that option at the start of the school year.
In comments to the board members, Marciante said when instruction resumes on Jan. 4, administrators will immediately attempt to determine “how many staff members will be available in January; and available means not sick or quarantined.”
The superintendent and board members acknowledged that some staff members and students may be traveling outside of New Jersey during the winter break and/or that staff members and students’ families may be hosting relatives from other states during their time off from school.
Marciante asked the board members to discuss the issue and give him direction regarding the reopening of the district’s schools.
It was noted during the discussion that a superintendent is not obligated to follow the board’s direction in matters pertaining to the operation of the school district.
Board President Dotty Porcaro said people would be going away during winter break. She suggested implementing fully remote instruction for the first two to three weeks in January.
Board Vice President Lori Semel said the schools should offer fully remote instruction for the first two weeks in January.
Gerald Bruno said he wants the schools to be open for in-person learning when winter break ends, but said the superintendent reserves the right to decide the issue based on the data that is available regarding staff members and students.
Brian Graime said he “tends to agree with Mr. Bruno. I would hope schools would open.” He suggested that if administrators opt for fully remote instruction as of Jan. 4, “that we do it for one week at a time” and determine if each week will be fully remote or use the hybrid model.
Ryan Urgo said, “It’s a hard call. School is the safest place for kids now with social distancing and masks. That’s the truth. I could be comfortable with an all-remote week after winter break (Jan. 4-8), but I don’t want this to turn into a semi-indefinite change because we are only looking at rising numbers.”
Christine Parisi said, “The numbers (of coronavirus cases) are increasing, the positivity rate is increasing; (the virus) is being brought into the schools.” Parisi said she would support remaining fully remote during the first week in January “to ensure the safety of our community.”
David Kane said “going virtual is not ideal; it is not what anyone (on the board) wants, but the best move is to be a little more conservative. I would agree with going virtual for a period of time between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8 … ideally we will be back (to the hybrid model) on Jan. 11.”
Janet Lewis, who was participating in her final meeting before leaving the board, said she would suggest “erring on the side of caution by going virtual for two weeks.” Lewis suggested keeping students and staff members home during the weeks of Jan. 4-8 and Jan. 11-15, and on Jan. 18 (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday). She said in-school instruction would resume on Jan. 19 in that scenario.
Joanne Schechter suggested having at least one week of fully remote instruction from Jan. 4-8 and, if possible, reopening the schools on Jan. 11.
Marciante asked Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Human Resources Nicole Santora to offer her views.
Santora said her concern “is that we have seen a lot of districts shut down, but their numbers (of coronavirus cases) did not go down. If we shut down the schools does that change (people’s) behavior in town? I don’t know what the best decision is.”
She suggested that having several days of fully remote instruction when classes resume after winter break would give administrators an opportunity to determine if staffing the buildings would be an issue moving forward.
Santora said data shows “the district is not seeing a loss of learning in the remote or hybrid models and the staff deserves credit for their hard work.”
In a Dec. 18 letter to the community, Marciante said that from Jan. 4-6, all in-person instruction will be canceled and the district will implement remote learning for all students.
During that time, he said, building administrators will assess and determine any staffing challenges that must be addressed to return to in-person instruction.
On Jan. 6, principals will inform parents of the status of their building and the ability to return to in-person instruction. Marciante wrote it is possible some buildings will remain remote while others return to in-person learning on Jan. 7.
Updates are posted on the school district’s website at https://www.mersnj.us/