By MADELEINE MACCAR
The Monroe Township School District Board of Education convened June 16 at Monroe Township High School, from where it also livestreamed the general open meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, BOE President Michele Arminio explained the rationale and mandates determining how a simultaneously in-person and virtual meeting is conducted, as she said members of the public have questioned why people couldn’t call in or submit virtual comments to the hybrid meeting.
“The Department of Community Affairs—it’s a division of Local Government Services—put out information as to how we were to behave during remote meetings,” she began, citing LFN 2020-21, which provided rules and guidelines for conducting open virtual meetings transparently. “If people want to call in, if people want to write in, that would be fine with me but the pragmatic and maybe the reality of that is maybe we would go to 3 o’clock in the morning every meeting.”
Arminio added that the board will continue to discuss the policy with school administration, saying that current measures are “in no way trying to restrict anyone from participating in our government,” but rather are following previous in-person procedures.
Next, Superintendent Dr. Dori Alvich recognized student board members Kayleigh Craver and Samaara Jain for their “dedicated service to the students and schools of Monroe Township.”
Among the evening’s honorees were some of the district’s retiring staff members, who had resolutions read in recognition of their years as devoted members of the schools’ community, along with the promise that they all will be missed.
Alvich then discussed the New Jersey-required reopening plans the district has been working on, in accordance with the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency and Relief (ERP ESSER). Enacted in In March 2021, ARP ESSER aims to provide direct aid to not only help safely reopen but also sustain the safe operation of schools while also addressing COVID’s multifaceted impact on education. Each of the school’s restart teams reviewed the plan, as did the district’s restart team.
“Every school in New Jersey right now that is receiving the ARP ESSER funds … is required to put together a reopening—actually, what we’re calling it is a safe return to in-person instruction—plan that has to be submitted to the state by June 24,” she explained. “Part of the requirement of this plan is that we have to present it to the community, and the community is offered time to give feedback to the school district.”
The superintendent emphasized that the document is currently in its first draft and “we expect it to go through multiple revisions through the summer, as guidance is updated and now the pandemic emergency is over, according to Gov. Murphy, in the next few weeks.”
She also noted it’s an inherently brief plan, as each section was only allowed a description no greater than 1,000 characters.
“[The state is] not expecting a full, in-depth plan, they’re just expecting a quick overview at this time,” said Alvich.
Plans for maintaining health and safety comprised the first section, including the “universal correct wearing of masks.”
Per Alvich, the district’s current plan is to continue following guidelines and executive orders established by the Department of Health, CDC and state department of education regarding where and when students and staff should wear masks.
“If masks are optional per executive order, the district will make masks optional … Students and staff who wish to continue to wear face coverings in all settings may do so,” she summarized, adding that those in classrooms without air conditioning may remove their masks when facing extreme heat.
The district’s physical distancing guidelines will also take their cue from mandating bodies, and individual allowances will be made on a case-by-case basis. Other items within the health and safety section included: handwashing and in-school hygiene; cleaning and maintaining healthy buildings and ventilation systems; illness reporting, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, and readmittance; vaccination education; and accommodating students with disabilities.
In the plan’s second section, the district addressed how it will ensure continuity of services. Alvich said that the district’s 2021-22 academic year will herald a return to the pre-COVID full-day schedule for grades 1-12. Pre-K, kindergarten and specific special education classes will also return to their regular academic schedules.
To identify students’ academic needs, assessments will be conducted during the fall of 2021. Additionally, fourth graders through high school seniors will also respond to a survey regarding their social and emotional needs. The assessments have been administered earlier in the pandemic and are being utilized to meet students’ needs, even as they shift overt time, as part of the district’s efforts to provide personalized support and programs meeting those needs.
Alvich explained that each school will have social and emotional support teams available to them and placed in each of their buildings. Each team will monitor their dedicated school to tailor the available programming so it provides services best addressing staff and students’ needs.
The reopening plan will be available on the district’s website, monroe.k12.nj.us, and will be shared with all school families June 18.
The next BOE meeting will be July 21.
A recording of the meeting will be available at the district’s video library, monroetv.viebit.com