Lawrence Township Public Schools students will be back in the classroom for in-person instruction using the hybrid learning model beginning Jan. 19, school district officials said.
Hybrid learning alternates between bringing small groups of students into the classroom for in-person learning for part of the week, and having them learn at home remotely for part of the week. They are divided into cohorts, or groups.
Students in grades pre-K to 3 and special education students had been brought back into classroom for hybrid learning in October and November. The older students were slated to begin hybrid learning in November, but it was postponed because of the growing numbers of positive cases of COVID-19.
At the school board’s Jan. 6 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun reported that the students will be going back into the classroom for hybrid learning in phases, beginning Jan. 19 for students in grades pre-K to 3 and special education students. The older students will be back for hybrid learning on Jan. 25.
However, Kasun’s announcement was met with mixed reviews from parents who attended the school board’s Jan. 6 virtual meeting, as some parents pushed for more in-person instruction and others urged caution.
While school district officials are “excited” to have the students back in the classroom, Kasun said, it is possible things may change. The rate of positive tests for COVID-19 is high, and several students and staff members have tested positive for the illness, he said.
Kasun emphasized that there is no evidence that any of those cases spread through in-person learning, sports or other school-related activities. The district has a “solid, safe plan” for students’ return to school that includes social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, he said.
The goal is to offer in-person learning to students whose parents opted for the hybrid plan, but a shortage of substitute teachers may present a problem if a teacher or aide is absent, he said.
If the district cannot find a substitute teacher, students in the affected class may stay remote for the day or be shifted to another classroom while maintaining safe social distancing, Kasun said. They may also learn asynchronously in a safe space in the school.
“We are ready. It is time to move forward with hybrid instruction,” Kasun said.
School board members Michelle King and Jonathan Dauber supported Kasun’s plan to bring students back into the classroom. Dauber thanked Kasun for “sticking to the plan.”
“I think there are pathways to keep the students and the staff safe. First and foremost, it gives the families the option to make a decision that’s best for them, whether it is remote or hybrid learning,” Dauber said.
Parents, however, had differing opinions on the school district’s plan.
Dan Remuszka asked why students could not go to school for a full day, rather than a half day. He said the rate of transmission of COVID-19 in schools is “very minimal,” and he could not understand why students are limited to two half-days of school per week.
Kasun said the reason that some districts offer more days in the classroom is because they bring in three students one day and three students on another day. In the Lawrence school district, he said, 60% of the parents have chosen hybrid learning and 40% have chosen remote learning.
“That may change. We want to start small and start smart. Our goal is to bring in more students (for in-person learning) more often, but we are not in a spot to do that yet,” Kasun said.
Wallace Kaserer, who works for a pharmaceutical company, cautioned the school board about the risk of COVID-19. Bringing students back to school increases the risk of exposure to the disease, he said.
“There is a significant risk that children may be exposed to the virus. Although the initial symptoms may be mild, later on the consequences are really unknown. We have very limited knowledge about this virus,” Kaserer said.
What is known is that COVID-19 is not contained to the respiratory tract, he said. It can affect multiple systems in the body.
“It is very important that you take this seriously. I understand the frustration of parents. The children are at home and they are not able to go to school, but compare that to the consequences later on (of this) multi-system inflammatory disease,” Kaserer said.
There are multiple vaccines in the works, he said. He suggested keeping students at home until they can be vaccinated. The vaccines that are available are not intended to be given to children under 16 years old, he said.
Jared Kimmel praised school district officials for allowing parents to choose from the hybrid or remote option. Some parents don’t want their children to go back to school, and they have the option to keep them home to learn, he said.