By: Carly Truett, Writer / Follow South Jersey Public Health Intern
TRENTON, N.J. — Governor Phil Murphy announced that New Jersey’s public schools will open for in-person instruction at the start of the school year. Public school districts may open with remote-only instruction if they cannot meet the state’s safety guidelines. Many Cumberland County schools – including Bridgeton Public Schools — plan to utilize this delay and begin the school year in an all-remote format.
The guidelines for reopening are provided in the New Jersey Department of Education’s “The Road Back.” Masks are required for all staff, visitors, and students over the age of two, except in specific situations such as a student eating. Social distancing is required in classrooms by placing desks six feet apart when possible and installing physical barriers when not. Classroom capacity will be limited when possible, and windows should be opened for circulation when weather allows. Meal times and recess periods will be staggered. Increased sanitation practices are expected for classrooms, cafeterias, and buses.
There is no statewide policy for testing students. Students who are experiencing symptoms and awaiting test results are expected to stay home until results are available. Schools are expected to designate a space separate from other students and staff for students who begin experiencing symptoms while at school to await pickup. If a student who has been at school is identified as having COVID-19, the school district will work with the local health department to conduct contact tracing to determine which students and staff may need to self-quarantine for 14 days. Students who test positive for COVID-19 will be permitted to attend school after at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset, at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of a fever without fever-reducing medication, and other symptoms have improved. A negative test will not be required for the student to return to school.
If a school district cannot meet one or more of these guidelines, they may request to begin the year with all-remote learning. However, these districts must name which guideline(s) they are unable to meet, show that they are making changes to reach the unmet guideline(s), and establish a date when they expect to be able to open for in-person instruction. Even so, school districts that are able to open for in-person learning may offer families and individual students the option of completing the school year virtually. Pittsgrove Township School District, for example, is offering a fully virtual cohort taught five days per week by a Pittsgrove teacher.
Bridgeton Public Schools plans to begin classes on September 8 in a fully-remote format. During this time, five days of breakfast and lunch will be provided to all students. Phase I of the hybrid plan is expected to begin on October 13. The hybrid format will reduce school capacity with 25% of students reporting on either Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday; receiving virtual instruction on the days they are not reporting to school; and all students will receive virtual instruction on Wednesdays. Phase II of the hybrid format involves two days per week of in-person instruction, but a tentative date for this start has not been determined.
“Keeping our students and staff safe will always be our top priority,” Bridgeton Superintendent Dr. Keith Miles, Jr. wrote in a letter posted on the district website. “Considering the constant changes and the fluidity of information regarding COVID-19, our district has worked hard to implement a plan to safely introduce in-person and virtual learning.”
Cumberland Regional High School announced Wednesday that it will be altering its previous plan for reopening. Under the new plan, a majority of students will be beginning the school year with fully remote instruction. The remote learning plan will continue through the end of the first marking period in November, when administrators will reevaluate the practicality of using the previously-planned hybrid schedule — though they anticipate continuing the fully remote format throughout the remainder of the first semester, which ends in January.
Anticipated start dates to the school year are just a few weeks away, and districts are continuing to monitor and assess the COVID-19 situation, guidelines from the state, and the needs of students and staff. Several districts are holding Board of Education meetings in the near future and more changes may be announced for the reopening of South Jersey schools.
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.