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Brick Schools Committed to In-Person Learning, But Covid-19 Cases Quadruple in District

A student works remotely at her computer. (Credit: US Dept. of Education/ Flickr)

A student works remotely at her computer. (Credit: US Dept. of Education/ Flickr)

Brick school officials are continuing to balance safety concerns over the spread of coronavirus with concerns over the best way for students to learn and the school community to retain its strength as cases have spiked in recent weeks.

“Since Nov. 15, we have seen the number of positive Covid-19 cases that have impacted our schools quadruple,” said Superintendent Thomas Farrell.

The good news, Farrell said, is that while the case load has increased, the schools themselves have not been identified as a vector for the virus to spread, and officials are still committed to returning to a full in-person learning schedule as soon as safety conditions permit. There has been no “in-school transmission” of coronavirus identified, he added.

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By the end of November, there had been more than a dozen cases of Covid-19 in the district, leading to as many classes to be quarantined. The numbers have only risen since.

Last month, the district announced it would pause “phase two” of its reopening plan until after the new year. That phase includes four days of in-person learning per week for students at all grade levels. Farrell said a poll of parents indicates about 70 percent favor a return to a regular school schedule. But with Christmas on its way and a holiday break looming, the focus of officials has switched to persuading families and staff members to be extra careful during their time off.

“I implore students, parents and staff to continue being responsible with practicing CDC recommended protocols which ensure our community’s safety,” Farrell said. “I trust the professionalism of staff and the consciousness of parents to minimize any negative impact to our learning environments once we return to school after holiday break. We’re not immune to the rising number of local cases we’ve been witnessing.”

As it currently stands, Brick is not designated a “very high risk” district for coronavirus transmission, nor has the Ocean County Health Department recommended the district to go all-remote after winter break. The region of New Jersey in which Brick is located was upgraded from a “moderate” risk to a “high” risk last month, but never reached the peak risk level which would require an all-out shutdown of in-person classes.

Farrell said if the state or county requested Brick move to an all-virtual schedule, the district would comply. He also said, however, that even the best virtual learning experiences do not compete with traditional, in-person classes, especially for the most vulnerable groups of students.

“It [all-virtual] is not the best option at this time, nor is it the best option for our at-risk, economically disadvantged, special education and English language learners,” he said.

“Our hope is that parents, students and staff be responsible in their planning for events over the winter break,” he added. “These are challenging times that call for tough administrative decisions that will not always please everyone.”

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