School District announces fall reopening plans and receipt of additional funding

At its regular June 21, 2021 Board meeting, which took place both in person and virtually by zoom, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) Board of Education president and superintendent emphasized District accomplishments and thanked the community and staff for a successful school year. Board president Deborah Linthorst  said that this will be the last School Board meeting to be held with zoom access unless circumstances change and that, going forward, public comment will only be accepted in person.

Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith mentioned how appreciative everyone was for in-person end-of-year events and illustrated “a snapshot into the future” of the District’s plans to host a traditional re-opening with precautions in place, in case there needs to be a short-term closure. Class schedules, including team placements for all schools and all levels, will be released on August 26. Transportation for all bus routes also will resume. Open houses will be held at the middle and elementary schools in August with specific dates shared by the building principals.

Smith said that the District is now in phase 4 of its reopening, which is “Full In- Person” learning. MercerMe reported the original reopening plan here. Last fall, the District transitioned quickly from Phase 1 to Phase 2 when the Board rejected an alternative plan in a 5-4 split decision that would have extended full remote learning.

Smith noted that returning to full-time in school learning will present challenges and that some students have not been at school in person for 18 months. He reinforced the importance of a welcoming opening and assured the public that future Superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece has spent considerable time working to identify gaps in student learning. Assessments will continue in September and additional supports will be built in as needed, he said.

As a final note to reopening, Smith noted that “the State was previously very flexible (with COVID outbreaks.) If we quarantined an entire classroom, they could all transition to remote learning and education was seamless.” However, according to current State guidelines, students or classes quarantined due to COVID outbreaks will “not count” as being in school when attending school remotely. Smith added that he thinks and hopes that guidance is subject to change.

Moving to the budget, Smith updated the Board on the District’s receipt of federal funding to assist in safely reopening schools. He said that the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) specifically provides direct funding to schools to support students in the wake of the pandemic. The money is received in three installments, known as ESSER I, ESSERII and ESSERIII, respectively.

ESSER funding sources

Smith explained that ESSER I funds were received by the District in March of 2020 as part of the CARES Act. That money has already been spent to fund additional air filtration and personal protective equipment (PPE.)

The ESSER II application has been submitted, according to Robert Colavita, Jr., assistant superintendent for business, and is still waiting for a final approval. Smith explained that those funds are earmarked for “mental health supports, learning loss, all of [the District’s] summer programming, and some HVAC enhancements.”

The HVRSD is currently in the process of applying for ESSER III, which will provide support for two years also in the areas of mental health and learning loss support and for HVAC enhancements.

Expected funding and dedicated use of ESSER funds

Colavita explained that, during July and August, the District will analyze the outcomes “from Dr. Treece’s learning loss supports and Ms. DiNardo’s [director of pupil services] mental health support implementation.” Once completed, he said, the District will reevaluate ESSER III spending including HVAC supports. Colavita indicated that there still is time during the application process to reprioritize needs so there “is not a kneejerk reaction just to get the money.”

In March 2021, when the budget was being prepared, Colavita reported that the District had increased its regular instruction budget $344,474 more than a plan presented two weeks earlier to account for the receipt of unanticipated State aid that the District intended to use toward learning loss remediation and possible funding for a change in school start time. In May, Smith announced that school start times would remain unchanged. In a recent email to MercerMe, Colavita confirmed learning loss remediation would be funded through ESSER funds.

While the unanticipated State aid will not be used for the previously stated purposes, the $344,474 remained as spending in the approved budget. Colavita added that those funds were allocated “to safeguard against any potential unbudgeted costs that may arise in a continuing covid/post-covid environment.”

At the meeting, Smith indicated that questions regarding school reopening or ESSER funding should be directed to hvrsd2020@hvrsd.org.

We are a little behind with our HVRSD coverage. More to come, including the July meeting, soon!

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