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Lawrence administrators agree to half-day of in-person instruction for students five days a week; parents call for full-day learning through end of school year

With less six weeks before the end of the 2020-21 school year, Lawrence Township school district officials remain firm in their decision to provide a half-day of in-person instruction to students five days per week.

Equally undaunted, a group of parents has continued to press school district officials to provide a full day of in-person instruction, making their case again at the Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education’s May 5 meeting.

The parents, many of whom belong to the Return to Learn Facebook group, raised the issue of returning to school for a full day at the school board’s April 21 meeting.

But Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun said he had received letters, phone calls and emails from parents after the April 21 meeting, supporting the district’s current plan for half-day in-person instruction in the morning and virtual instruction in the afternoon.

One of the obstacles to returning to a full day of in-person instruction is lunch. Lawrence school district officials have ruled out serving lunch, citing the difficulty in ensuring adequate space, social distancing, supervision and cleaning that is needed to do so.

Kasun said the majority of school districts do not serve lunch. The Princeton, West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional and East Windsor Regional school districts do not serve lunch and hold in-person instruction in the morning and virtual instruction in the afternoon.

The Hopewell Valley Regional School District will begin full-day instruction May 17.

“Those decisions are not right or wrong,” Kasun said at the school board’s May 5 meeting. Each school district is unique and must do what it deems to be best – and that’s what the Lawrence Township school district has done, he said.

Gov. Phil Murphy has directed all school districts to return to full-day, in-person instruction in September, and Kasun said that Lawrence school district officials “are planning every which way and our goal is to open (for full-day instruction) in September.”

But several parents, including members of the Return to Learn Facebook group, continued to push for full-day instruction now, and were skeptical that Lawrence students would return to a full day of in-person instruction in September.

Amy Davis, who is one of the co-founders of Return to Learn, continued to lobby for a full day of in-person instruction even as the school year winds down. She said other districts have overcome similar challenges facing Lawrence – providing lunch and ensuring adequate staff.

“Why not Lawrence? Stop focusing on the problems and find real solutions. Other districts that have fully reopened have done so because they wanted to do so,” Davis said.

Davis said many parents have abandoned the Lawrence Township Public School District for private schools, and more are poised to leave because they have lost confidence in the district’s ability to fully re-open schools and provide a quality education.

“I also remain unconvinced that you will allow our schools to fully re-open in September. Please convince me otherwise,” she said. “Provide a detailed plan, offer clear explanations of what your current issues are, and improve your overall communication to the families you serve.”

Michael Horan, who is a co-founder of Return to Learn, also said he was skeptical that the school district would begin full-day, in-person instruction in September, despite Kasun’s assurances that the district is planning on it.

“I have low confidence” that the schools will re-open for full-day, in-person learning, but “I will be happy to be proven wrong,” Horan said.

Horan said his son will be a senior at Lawrence High School and his daughter will be a freshman – both milestones for them – and that he and his wife want them to return to a normal school year.

But Jacqui Ivey, whose children have been learning virtually, said she would like to continue to have her children learn at home. Her children have been thriving in virtual learning, away from the distractions of the classroom. Her son told her that he is only returning to Lawrence High School because it is his senior year.

Ivey said she was speaking on behalf of parents who want the option of virtual learning for their children in September – despite Murphy’s statement that all schools will be open for a full day of in-person instruction.

Kasun said some parents would prefer to maintain virtual learning, and the district will most likely offer that option if it is allowed by the New Jersey Department of Education.

Lisa Kestler said that while it is important to hear the perspective of parents who want their children to learn remotely, she is still advocating for a full day of in-person instruction.

Kestler said she would “strongly urge” the district to commit to a solid, concrete plan as to how it will get students back into school for a full day of learning – and more importantly, to have the mindset to make it happen.

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