School District Slows In-Person Return

School officials discussed how the district is handling coronavirus during a recent Board of Education meeting. (Screenshot by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – The district plans to keep with the goal of having students return for additional in-person instruction, although the timeline has been pushed back two weeks due to an uptick in coronavirus cases in New Jersey.

  In Phase 2, elementary aged students were supposed to attend in-person school four days a week, up from a two-day week, starting November 16. The date has been moved to November 30 as of this writing.

  “We will continue on that course,” said Superintendent Dr. Thomas Farrell during the November 12 Board of Education meeting. “We will get there, we all want to get there. We understand the importance of kids being in school, and we want them in school.”

  Students have been attending school in-person since the start of the school year in September on an early dismissal schedule because students and staff would have to remove their masks to eat lunch, which would increase the chances of the coronavirus spreading among the school population.

  During Phase 2, the early-dismissal schedule would remain in effect. Families also have the option of remaining on 100 percent virtual instruction.

  Dr. Farrell stressed that the date for Phase 2 was tentative as the district has continued to monitor and adjust based upon the data, guidance from the Department of Health, and the NJ Department of Education.

  The administration announced the delay of the four-day school week based on current information and “an abundance of caution,” Dr. Farrell said.

  “Please keep in mind, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and conditions are ever-changing, and the situation is very fluid,” he said.

  According to the Department of Health, COVID-19 cases have continued to rise recently in New Jersey, Ocean County and Brick, resulting in new statewide restrictions from Governor Phil Murphy.

  Recent data shows that over 60 statewide schools with in-person hybrid instruction have switched to all-virtual learning, many which are located in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, Dr. Farrell said.

  The state has recently had the largest surge of coronavirus outbreaks since April, he added.

  Dr. Farrell said that the administration hopes that middle- and high school students would begin Phase 2 after the winter break.

  During public comment, resident Joe Rossi said he was thankful to the teachers and administrators for “taking on a role that they’ve had no way to prepare for,” but questioned if the administration was making decisions based on statewide data or on what’s happening in Brick.

  “To my knowledge, we really haven’t had any excessive cases, if any, in our schools,” he said. “I feel like we’re slowing the pace and I’m not really sure why.”

  Rossi has three young children in the district and said that hybrid learning is not conducive for them. “It’s actually quite the opposite,” he said.

  His kids do well during in-person learning but added learning remote “is beyond detrimental for them…my concerns are that we keep pushing the goal line back further and further…it’s very complicated from a parent’s perspective when you have kids that are struggling tremendously with this and feeling like there’s no end in sight.”

  Dr. Farrell said the district is delaying two weeks in order to see more data. “It’s not just the cases you have in a school building or school district,” he explained.

  Ocean County accounts for 25 percent of the COVID-19 increases, and Brick has a plus-3.5 percent increase in cases, he said.

  What happens in a community or through travel spills into the learning environment, Dr. Farrell said. The district has had coronavirus cases that have impacted and quarantined classes in three buildings, and other cases that have not impacted the schools because the infected students or staff members were doing online learning or teaching.

  “To not look at that data and not be proactive I think would be irresponsible on my part,” the superintendent said. “I can’t tell you that any of the dates are etched in stone.”

  The next Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday December 17 at 7 at the Professional Development Center.