STAFFORD – Superintendent of Schools George Chidiac presented preliminary reopening plans for the 2021-2022 school year during the Board of Education’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
Chidiac added a caveat about the plan the district already submitted to the county superintendent. The school system routinely considers revisions to the plans every six months – although some changes come sooner.
“We reevaluate what we have in place with our stakeholders,” shared Chidiac. “We look for input from all of our stakeholders, including Board of Education members, the PTO, and the public.”
School board members unanimously approved the 2021-2022 reopening plans during their regular meeting.
The timing of the presentation came with a bit of irony. The first section of the reopening plans targets mask-wearing requirements, as ordered by state mandate. That said, Stafford board members met on the same day that Governor Phil Murphy decided school districts could make the masks optional.
According to the proposed reopening plans that become effective as of September 1, the district guidelines include the implementation of face coverings for students and staff. The mask requirement continues to apply to school buses and all school campuses. Accommodations for children with disabilities are written into the plan as far as mask exemptions.
Physical distancing constraints change from six feet to three feet, or the greatest extent possible. Chidiac admitted that the biggest challenge is spacing children occurs in the cafeteria.
Basic handwashing instruction, as well as cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, continue to be critical to the district’s reopening next year. The goal remains to keep students and staff members safe from COVID-19 infection. Funding provided by the American Rescue Act will allow the district to add air purifiers, as well as other new acquisitions.
“We’re also going to purchase ten six-feet portable UV disinfection units,” Chidiac said. “These robot-like machines will go through the buildings after the children leave and sanitize them.”
Stafford Schools plan to recommend resources for diagnostic testing for students and staff members exhibiting signs of COVID-19, as well as screening tests. The district will continue to work with Hackensack Meridian to provide vaccinations to educators who want them.
Learning acceleration activities that include summer education programs and before and after school assistance all appear in the reopening plans. Social, emotional, and mental health needs are viewed as a priority, which may require contracting with outside agencies.
Prior to the pandemic, the district invited parents and students to tour their new classrooms. Chidiac said this meant too many people could possibly be in small quarters. With COVID constraints, the administrative team decided to wait an additional school year.
“The state will not allow us to include a remote plan,” shared Chidiac. “There are also no medical exemptions for staff members.”
The district plans to hold parent-teacher conferences in person when they are scheduled in November. Enrichment and extracurricular activities should also resume without the necessity of remote access. Virtual field trips will replace regular ones until the following year as it now stands.
When Stafford schools reopen, specials will be back in place. Students will go back to changing classes, rather than teachers making the move. The district’s Gifted and Talented program is expected to return to normal. Students from K-6 will all be issued Chromebooks that can be taken home with them.
“As things change (referring to COVID-19 restraints,) Chidiac said. “We’ll adjust accordingly.”
Another portion of the Committee of the Whole meeting included a presentation on the district’s goals. Although the Committee of the Whole meetings are open to the public, they are held in a separate room. The regular meeting follows in a larger room – a format one board member questioned.
“Through my board trainings, I’ve been told that people actually laugh at us for our Community as a Whole being redundant,” shared Patricia Formica. “It’s better to be redundant, but why can’t we do this in public?”
According to Formica, the public doesn’t understand they have the ability to tune in to both parts of the meeting. The prospect of consolidating both meetings in one room would make the board appear more transparent, according to the board member.
Board members ultimately decided to keep the two meetings in their present form. If more than ten people show up for the Committee of the Whole meeting, it will be relocated to a larger area.