TOMS RIVER – School officials revealed their plan for reopening in September, offering parents the choice of either 100 percent virtual instruction or a mix of virtual and in-person education.
The outline of how to start the 2020-2021 school year was given by school officials during a broadcasted Board of Education meeting.
Since the guidelines and the pandemic keep changing, school officials said they are prepared to do all virtual, all in-person, or blended depending on what is needed. They are prepared to offer any of those in September, but it is looking like parents will choose either virtual or blended. There are also plans to change this mid-year. If the virus gets worse, then the district is prepared to go 100 percent virtual. If it is deemed safe, the district is prepared to go 100 percent in-person.
Parents are going to be asked to choose whether they want 100 percent virtual education. They will have until Aug. 7 to notify the district of that choice via Parent Portal. If no choice is made, the child will be placed into the blended learning model.
Blended learning means that half the students will be in the buildings on Monday and Wednesday and then virtual the other three days. The other half would be in the buildings Tuesday and Thursday and virtual the other days. There would be four hours in school supplemented by virtual learning. As of right now, students with last names beginning with A-K will be Monday/Wednesday and L-Z will be Tuesday/Thursday. Children in the same household with different last names will be placed together.
The virtual learning, whether it is 100 percent of a child’s week or as part of the whole, will include a mix of self-guided lessons, interactive activities, and more.
Self contained special needs students will have four, four-hour days of in-person education and a virtual Friday.
Between the students taking shifts in the building, and the portion of students staying home entirely, there are expected to be fewer people in the buildings and busses so that social distancing is possible.
Some safety details include:
- If someone tests positive, everyone exposed to that person will be notified
- All desks facing forward
- Separate entrances and exits
- Reduced changing of classrooms
- Hallways will have a direction of traffic
- Face coverings to be worn from home, and in places where they can’t social distance
- Staff must wear face coverings
- When entering a bus, you must fill up the back seats first to limit the interaction with others
- Busses will be sanitized after each run and will get a deep cleaning at the end of the day
In a survey sent out earlier this year, half of the parents voted for a rotation where children learn virtually on Friday. Most of them also were comfortable with gyms and cafeterias being made into learning spaces. There were 28.2 percent of parents who said they would home school or choose virtual if their child were required to wear masks in common areas. There were 9,359 responses.
A draft of the 2020-2021 school calendar has the first day of school being Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day weekend.
Board of Education members had questions about the plan that were answered by administrators during the most recent meeting.
If a student or staff member gets sick, do the other people in class have to quarantine? This question was asked by members Michael Horgan and Ginny Rhine. Assistant Superintendent James Ricotta Jr. said that if someone has a symptom, they need to get tested. However, it might take days before the result is known. The district would have to follow health guidelines. It would depend on their symptoms and their exposure to see what needs to be done.
Member Michele Williams asked about non-public bussing. Ricotta said that the district has been communicating with the vocational school and private special education schools. Some of the non-publics are still formulating their own plans.
Board President Anna Polozzo said that another district is testing every child and staff member every 14 days. Would Toms River do that? Ricotta said it would cost $900,000 a week to do this, so that is not part of the plan.
Polozzo also asked if the school is prepared to go 100 percent virtual in September if the numbers of cases goes up, and Ricotta said the district is prepared for that.