Students in the Hillsborough Township Public Schools who have an Individualized Education Program or who are taking English as a Second Language will have the opportunity to access more in-person instruction for the rest of the school year.
According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa Antunes, the school district is currently discussing a plan to accommodate those student populations to have four days of in-person instruction once they feel the schools are safe to do so.
The school district has been offering four days of in-person instruction to severely disabled students this school year, Antunes said.
The move comes on the heels of the school district starting its third marking period of the 2020-21 academic year this week.
So far, the school district’s hybrid model that began on Sept. 29 has provided a lot of benefits to students and teachers during these hard times, in the view of Antunes.
“The hybrid plan has afforded students and teachers an opportunity to engage in in-person learning in a safe and productive manner,” Antunes said. “The students who are in person benefit from socializing (following all safety protocols) with their peers and have the opportunity for direct communication with and support from their teachers.”
Based on a recent survey conducted in the school district, Antunes said about 41% of the students in the district wish to learn via the hybrid model for the third marking period. Fifty-three percent of the population has requested to learn virtually. Five percent of students in the district did not respond to the inquiry and thus are considered wanting to learn virtually, she said.
Antunes believes that the hybrid model constructed by the school district has been beneficial to those learning virtual as well.
The superintendent said the office hours that are available for students and parents to meet with teachers after a synchronous learning day has helped all parties “connect on a more personal level to have individual and small group learning needs met.”
She added that teachers adjusted their curriculum along the way, if need be, to help engage students and optimize their learning.
It was reported recently by the Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) that 44% of the teachers in the school district have either resigned or retired since the start of the 2019-20 school year. The HEA issued a statement before this current school year of safety concerns they had with working in an unsafe work environment due to construction work still being done around certain schools for the referendum project.
HEA President Henry Goodhue has also said that the school district denied teachers any request to teach only virtually due to COVID-19 concerns and had to teach in person through the hybrid model.
Antunes acknowledged, in respect to teachers who have retired over the past year, that their reasons may have had to do with their “comfort level” to teach in person during these times.
As for the safety and teaching concerns brought about by the HEA, Antunes said the school district believes that in-person instruction is safe for both students and teachers at this time.
“The district is in full compliance with the requirements set forth in The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education, and has adjusted accordingly where necessary as the COVID-19 situation has evolved. It therefore believes that in-person instruction is safe and appropriate for both students and staff,” Antunes said.
Hillsborough did shut down all its schools for two weeks in November because of a surge of COVID-19 cases in the township and Somerset County.
In caution of COVID-19 cases rising during winter break, the school district went fully virtual during the first week of the new year and resumed its hybrid model on Jan. 11.
Antunes noted that the school district did report new positive cases found during the holiday break, fueling the decision to push back in-person instruction for a week.
She added that the school district has continued to abide by the health and safety protocols sent by Gov. Phil Murphy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt any transmission of COVID-19 in the schools.
So far, Antunes said “the primary means of transmission of the cases reported have been from outside of the schools.”