TOMS RIVER – Students who are going to school in-person will be going four days a week instead of two, as the next stage of the district’s reopening plan is scheduled for March.
Parents who want their children to stay home were given the choice to stay virtual. They had to make that choice or else the child would default to in-person. Parents can change their mind once per marking period.
Kindergarten through 5th grade students will return March 1 and grades 6-12 will return March 15. In-school classes will be Monday through Thursday. Friday will be virtual for all students.
The decision to bring more students to school was announced during a Board of Education meeting that was broadcast virtually because COVID-19 has prevented the public from being in school.
This has been a controversial topic, as some parents are saying that their children struggle with virtual instruction. Even teachers have said that they want to be with the children because that is an ideal learning environment; however, the coronavirus has destroyed whatever an “ideal” learning environment could be.
Every day, the district’s website lists the number of students and staff impacted by the virus. On the day of the meeting, February 11, there were 366 students (2.52 percent) and 55 staff (2.49 percent) quarantined. The number who tested positive were at 465 students (3.2 percent) and 175 staff (7.93 percent). The positivity rate includes all students and staff who have tested positive since March of 2020; it does not list how many are currently sick.
“We embark on this new phase cautiously, but with great hopes that it represents another step toward an eventual full return,” said interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella. “This decision to increase in-person instruction was made carefully, collaboratively, and with the best interests of our school community in mind.”
He said that he has hopes that a full return could be possible during the current school year, but is likely for the 2021-2022 school year.
The district will continue to follow guidelines from the New Jersey Department of Education and local health departments, the district said. Protocols involving cleaning, screening, and contact tracing will be adhered to.
“We recognize, however, that the increase of in-person instructional time for students presents a challenge, and we must acknowledge scenarios whereby we will not be able to accommodate six feet of social distance among students. In such cases, staff and students will continue to wear the appropriate face coverings and, when appropriate, clear desk dividers will be available. Our building principals will continue to develop a schedule that staggers times for transitions and limits congregation in common areas like hallways,” Gialanella said.
A presentation during the meeting said that staff will be able to use plexiglass barriers and redesigned seating to still keep kids separate.
Parents called in during the meeting questioning transportation, quarantining entire classrooms, and why whole schools had been shut down.
A parent asked about children wearing masks in rooms without air conditioning. Gialanella said that open windows and fans will help. Hopefully numbers will come down by summer enough to ease mask restrictions.
Some parts of the plan were not decided yet, for example whether students or teachers will move between classes in later grades.
Staff shortages have been covered by teachers on their lunch and prep periods, officials said.