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Metuchen district’s Safe Return to School plan paves way for return to in-person classes

PHOTO COURTESY OF PRINCETON FAMILY YMCA

By Gloria Stravelli

Correspondent

METUCHEN – The school district’s top official outlined plans for the return of students and staff to classes on Sept. 9, which include multiple layers of safety measures such as mandating face masks and social distancing to ensure a safe return to in-person learning.

Plans for the 2021-22 school year call for a return to the classroom, Superintendent Vincent Caputo explained during a presentation at the Aug. 10 Board of Education meeting, in response to a query from a board member.

“I just want to clarify, because it’s come to my attention a lot from the public, could you explain to us any decision-making based around remote learning for this year or anything that involves children doing hybrid instruction?” asked Board of Education member Chris Derflinger. “Do we have that choice this year, is that an option for us?”

Caputo responded, “So there’s no remote option, no hybrid option. It’s in-person learning for the school year. That’s the plan, that’s what we’re following and that’s how we’re planning for the start of the ‘21-‘22 school year.”

However, Caputo said there would be resources available for students who must quarantine due to exposure to the virus.

“If a child does have to quarantine as a result of an exposure, without remote learning is there a way to keep up while they’re home?” Derflinger asked. “Do we have a different plan other than the way we used to do it when a child was sick?”

Caputo responded, “There won’t be a Zoom link, or a Google link to join a classroom. They won’t be ‘rooming and Zooming.’ There will be asynchronous instruction because we’ll have Google classes in every room in the building. It will be a different program at Moss [School] for younger students.

“But a Google Classroom in all of our classrooms – so it will be asynchronous opportunities. As well as, of course, we’re going to have to pay attention to providing some tutoring opportunities for students. And we’re working through that process and how that would be offered,” he said.

According to Caputo, in early June the school district presented its initial Safe Return to School plan to the state and is required to update the public every 60 days, as well as to accept public comment on progress toward implementing the plan.

“This is our COVID-related plan, called Safe Return to School,” Caputo said. “Obviously, we’d been in school all last year; some districts didn’t return last year or just at the very end,” Caputo said. “So that was just more of ensuring a safe return to this school year.”

In line with the Road Forward Plan adopted by the state Departments of Education and Public Health, the district plan focuses on 15 areas, explained Caputo, who reviewed the areas and provided an update relating to compliance with the plan in the Metuchen School District.

Some focus areas addressed in the district plan include:

• Vaccination: “We’re not mandating those at this time but we are highly recommending for everyone that’s eligible to receive the vaccination,” Caputo said, adding this could change in line with possible state mandates.

“We’re closely watching to see if the governor is going to require vaccinations and unvaccinated employees to be tested regularly,” he said. “If that’s the case, we’ll consider partnering with a third party like we did last year.”

• Communication: “Tonight is a 60-day update. We’ll do this again in October and December,” Caputo said.

The district will also host and send a link to a community webinar planned for later this month or close to the start of the school year.

“As the ground shifts all the time we’ll present our next update,” he said.

• Masks: The district will continue to require everyone in school buildings to wear masks, which has been the case for the entire school year and summer programs as well, Caputo noted, adding some exceptions being are during lunch when eating, when outdoors for physical education, as well as for athletic games and practices.

• Screening: The district will to return to daily screening forms starting Aug. 30 for all staff and students and visitors. According to Caputo, temperature checks will not be reinstated.

To limit the use of shared supplies and equipment, gym locker rooms will not be used and use of hall lockers at the high school and middle school is still to be determined.

Other areas addressed in the district plan include: physical distancing; hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; meals; air filtering; the lunch program; cleaning and disinfecting protocols; maximizing air flow; transportation; protocols for parental screening of children prior to coming to school; protocol for symptomatic staff and students; contact tracing; protocols for students and staff who are symptomatic or have a positive test.

The full school board meeting can be viewed on the Metuchen Public School District Facebook page.

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