Brick Township school officials are continuing to plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year and the return of students amidst the coronavirus pandemic, with Superintendent Thomas Farrell favoring a hybrid of remote and in-classroom learning.
No final decision has been reached by officials on how to proceed in September, and there is a chance the state could place further mandates between now and then, but what Farrell termed an “A-B” schedule was favored by most parents who filled out surveys at the end of the 2019-20 school year last month. In all, 3,622 responses were received from parents, asking which type of schedule structure they would prefer when the new school year begins.
“The exact schedule has not been determined … thus the full plan will be communicated by the first week of August as required,” said Farrell.
Under the most likely scenario, students will be divided into cohorts termed group “A” and group “B.” Students in one group will attend classes in-person Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other group will attend Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday will be a virtual day of learning for all students, and will also give the district a full day to deep-clean facilities and teachers to engage in professional development, Farrell said.
“Siblings will be assigned to the same cohort across buildings” to make life easier for parents, the superintendent said.
Other plans under consideration were splitting up students between morning and afternoon groups, or using a different combination of in-person days of the week. The entire hybrid program is designed to meet state-mandated social distancing guidelines by having fewer students in a classroom and providing them with extra space – likely a desk as a barrier – and more time for custodial staff to clean and disinfect buildings.
Though the schedule has yet to be set in stone, the district, at a meeting Thursday night, did introduce several policies on first reading that will govern the wearing of masks on school property. All staff members will be required to wear masks at all times, as will all visitors to schools. Visitors – and possibly students and staff involved in certain activities – may have their temperature checked, and anyone with a reading of 100.4 degrees will have to go home and quarantine.
Students will be required to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible, but they will not be required to wear them for the entirety of the school day.
“Students must wear masks as they enter and exit the buildings, when they’re out in the hallways, going out to a recess area and going to physical education,” said Susan McNamara, Director of Planning, Research & Evaluation for the district. “As long as they are moving, they can pull down their masks. The minute they stop, the masks have to go back on.”
In some cases, students will have to wear masks while they arein class.
“In classrooms that are too small, masks will have to be worn all day,” McNamara said.
Similar to classrooms, social distancing will be required on school buses. The alternating in-person and virtual schedules will keep bus occupancy lower. With all students and staff wearing masks on buses, the maximum number of students allowed on a traditional 54-seat bus would be 27. Without requiring masks, only about 11 students could be seated on a 54-seat bus. The district, by virtue of state guidance, will be requiring masks.
“Clearly we would not be able to accommodate that and do the necessary level of busing for our students” if masks wear not required during transport, said McNamara.
Jim Edwards, the district’s business administrator, said school bus drivers and aides would be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing buses after routes. The cleaning costs will not produce overtime since the routes will be smaller and shorter, leaving enough time for the drivers to take on the extra duties.
Another expected new rule for the upcoming school year is assigned seating in all classrooms.
“Students will be assigned to a certain desk,” said Farrell, and they will not be able to use cubby holes or lockers. “You will have a desk in between acting as a barrier.”
Desks will have students’ names written on them and the seating requirements will remain from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Some activities will go on, however, officials said. So far, 562 students have signed up for about 70 clubs and organizations. Plus, the district is hiring a consultant to develop specialized strategies teachers can use to adopt the hybrid schedule.
“They are going to be looking at constructing a very robust instruction model,” said Farrell.
The district’s plan will be able to be modified depending on state mandate in either direction – a return to all-virtual learning, or all in-classroom learning.