Plans Discussed For New School Year

Superintendent Nicole Pormilli attempts to speak during the most recent Jackson School Board meeting where the auditorium at Jackson Memorial High School was filled with angry parents who were not in favor with a state mandate requiring masks be worn by students and staff in the new school year. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – School Superintendent Nicole Pormilli released plans updating the school district’s “Road Forward” plan for the start of the new school year.

  In a message to parents and residents, Pormilli said that with Governor Phil Murphy’s recent executive orders requiring masks for staff and students and other guidelines from the Department of Education, “we felt it was important to communicate this week as to where the district is in regards to some of this information.”

  “We are very excited about welcoming our students back for full day instruction. It is not exactly how we had hoped to return to school in the fall but we are very excited to see students in our schools at full capacity, with a five-day program.”

  She said the district is following the guidelines put out by State’s Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Health, the Ocean County Health Department as well as the executive orders that came out from Governor Murphy.

  The health and safety of everyone in the 10 buildings within the school district were considered “a top priority” according to Pormilli. She said that included both physical and mental health.

  The plan calls for a five-day, full day schedule for all students. Pormilli said that changes could be made if executive orders or health guidelines required modification. “As you know things are changing on a daily basis and we will communicate if it does change.”

  She said that along with normal schedules for students, lunch will be served every day with hot and cold options. Lunch will again be free for all students and this also includes breakfast at all Jackson schools.

  Pormilli noted that per the executive order, masks will be required for all school staff and students. That went into effect this month. She added that students will be socially distanced at the extent possible in classrooms and other school areas.

  “We will continue to focus on hygiene and all the other protocols in cleaning up areas as we did last year,” she added.

  New for this year will be a change in the daily screening forms. “We will no longer require the daily screening for our students and our staff. Instead there will be one school form that gets completed at the beginning of the school year by a parent or staff member. (It) is a sign off that you will monitor the health of your child – or yourself if you are a staff member – and you will stay home if you are sick or have symptoms of COVID,” Pormilli added.

  “We ask that you monitor your health every day. While we would have preferred the wearing of masks to be optional for everyone, the governor’s executive order 251 announced on August 6 mandated, staff, students and visitors wear masks in school buildings and on buses. Masks do not need to be worn outside and we will continue to monitor the temperature outside. Some of our buses do not have air conditioning so we may have to make an exception if there is excessive heat and not require the masks,” the superintendent said.

  Pormilli said as of August 20 it was announced mask wearing will lessen quarantine. “So now, if a student is wearing a mask in school and is further than three to six feet from someone who tests positive for COVID they will not need to quarantine if they are showing no symptoms. That is a great benefit for our students. There will be less quarantining needed. This was released from the Department of Education and we are happy that we will hopefully not have to quarantine as many students now that this is in place.”

  There are some exemptions to wearing a mask which are listed on the school district’s website. Two of the primary exemptions involve anyone whose health would be inhibited by wearing a mask such as those exposed to extreme heat indoors.

  “All our buildings are air conditioned so we shouldn’t have any extreme heat indoors,” she said.

  She also noted that Special Education students may also be exempt which requires a call to the child’s guidance counselor to discuss the need and whether the parent needs to complete a special form. There would have to be medical confirmation from a licensed physician to sign off on not wearing a mask.

  Pormilli acknowledged that there were “many families who would prefer that students not have to wear their masks. We understand that and we would have preferred it to be an option as well. We did advocate our position on that last spring. We preferred for it to be a local decision. The governor is very much aware that this district would have preferred it to be choice. However, we are not in a position to not follow an executive order because the law requires us to follow that order.”

  She noted that there are consequences for school districts who do not follow executive orders. “There are penalties. I’d be concerned about the loss of state aid to our district. We are already losing millions of dollars and we really couldn’t sustain our programs if we lost any more money.”