After students in grades kindergarten through third entered “phase two” of the district’s restart plan Feb. 22, the district is now preparing for the return of the remainder of its students, though there are still some regulations and adaptations as compared to a normal school year.
Once the students return, they will attend in-person classes four days per week (Monday through Thursday) and will operate on a half-day schedule. Superintendent Thomas Farrell said state regulations make it impossible for Brick to return to regular school hours, and remote-learning on Fridays allows the district to retain cohesiveness between students who attend school in person and those whose parents prefer them to remain in an all-remote cohort. About 20 percent of the district’s students attend school remotely every day.
“The problem with full-day, most significantly, is lunch,” said Farrell. “The governor still has an executive order for indoor gatherings. It’s almost impossible to have a lunch, especially indoors when it’s cold, with students taking their masks off.”
The state does recommend “mask breaks” for students, a policy with which the district complies. Farrell said the district has made additional improvements in consultation with both the state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection. State-of-the-art HEPA filters have been installed in school buildings and electronic cleaning devices have been purchased to sanitize areas of the schools after use.
Additionally, the district has implemented a face covering mandate, social distancing methods, the availability of hand sanitizer, extra cleaning of facilities and a comprehensive contact tracing program if an outbreak were ever to occur.
That leaves Fridays as the remaining all-virtual day of learning.
“The issue with Friday is two-fold,” Farrell explained. “It is our synchronous virtual day with all cohorts. What’s great about Friday is that all the classmates get to see each other with the teacher, and that’s important for student-teacher connections. We still have a little over 20 percent of the population who want their students all-remote.”
In a letter to parents, Farrell said that more details on the next phase of the restart program would be provided to parents and students by building principals. Officials also pledged to try to restart certain clubs and co-curricular activities beyond sports as the year draws on. Susan McNamara, a district administrator, said the issue with restarting these activities is the availability of “late buses” to transport students after dismissal time.
Farrell pointed out that, even during the worst periods of the pandemic, Brick has never completely closed its schools’ doors this year, a sentiment which was echoed by school board members.
“We’re at the home stretch,” said Board of Education President Stephanie Wohlrab. “They have done a job that is so fantastic when you compare us to other districts and what they have gone through.”