When students start the 2021-22 school year in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) they will continue to follow certain safety protocols such as social distancing 3 feet apart from their classroom peer.
At the Board of Education monthly meeting, which occurred on Aug. 16, Superintendent Rosetta Treece presented to the school board and parents about the district’s reopening plans that included masking, mask exemptions, bus transportation, and classroom spaces for the upcoming school year.
Students in pre-K to 12th grade, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks indoors in each of the six district schools consisting of Hopewell Valley Central High School (HVCHS), Timberlane Middle School (TMS), Toll Gate Grammar School, Hopewell Elementary School, Bear Tavern Elementary School and Stony Brook Elementary School.
The requirement falls in line with Gov. Phil Murphy’s signed executive order earlier this month mandating that all students, educators, staff and visitors wear a mask indoors for the start of 2021-22 school year.
“We will be starting with everyone pre-K to 12th grade wearing a mask in our buildings. Our buses were already mandated that masks be worn indoors,” Treece said on Aug. 16. “Outdoors kids can go mask optional and they can have their mask breaks. Sports teams, when they are physically playing, they can take off their mask, but when they are seated indoors they have to have their masks on.”
This is part of Phase 1 in the district’s planned three-phased approach with the reopening.
Treece expressed hope for a Phase 2 by mid-year or sooner that would be determined by factors such as the health department giving approval and Murphy lifting the mandate.
“Allowing us the flexibility, I would like for us to go to mask exemption – if you are vaccinated you can move into that mask exemption,” she said. “That is going to require your support as parents to self-report that information to us and for our staff that they have been vaccinated. Hopefully, we get to Phase 3 before this year is out, where everyone can be mask optional in all of our grades, because we have most of us vaccinated and have slowed this virus down to a place where we can say that.”
For students to get a mask exemption for the upcoming year, the student must be seriously diagnosed with a medical issue from the doctor, which then heads to the district medical doctor for approval.
“Then we may put another accommodation in place, which is to wear a shield or some alternative to kind of create some barrier between them and quite frankly to protect them, because they are also unvaccinated,” Treece said.
Other exemptions include extreme heat indoors, if an individual has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, under 2 years old, and engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking, according to the presentation.
The six schools in the district will also follow the recommended 3 feet apart rule for students in the classroom and in certain instances use Plexiglass to provide separation between students.
“Anywhere we can’t do 3 feet apart, we are going to have Plexiglass between children and children facing away from each other,” Treece said.
If the weather allows, the use of outside classroom spaces will also continue, along with seating charts and hand washing procedures.
When it comes to bus transportation, masks will be required and seating charts utilized.
Treece added that the district is struggling to find enough buses to carry the runs the district needs currently due to the bus driver shortage in New Jersey.
Additionally, there will be a minimal number of guests and parents in district schools and board office buildings. Appointments must be made by parents and guardians.
During the upcoming school year, Thomas Quinn, director of Facilities, said every classroom has a Medify air HEPA filter station in them to clean the classroom every 30 minutes.
“We run electrostatic sprayers at night and it sticks to everything. Otherwise we use eco-friendly cleaners and the restroom spaces are continually disinfected and every classroom and several locations throughout the hallways have hand sanitizer stations,” he said.
The district also has hydroxyl generators.
“It has UV lights in it, As the air passes through UV light kills all the bacteria and viruses and exchanges the air back out,” Quinn said. “That machine is strong enough to thoroughly clean the air in a large gym in about an hour. We will be running those in the large capacity areas this year.”
Plexiglass panels will also be used throughout the district as needed in the high traffic areas.
“All air systems are set to run the maximum outside air as possible. No air is going from one room to another,” he added. “All the air comes in and goes out and stays in the room.”
According to the presentation, all classroom air handlers are filtered and changed regularly, the interior air is exhausted outside, and the classroom air is changed approximately every 15 minutes in addition to the HVAC units circulating air at least two hours prior to the start of each school day.