Superintendent Smith Presents HVRSD School Reopening Plan

CORRECTION 8/4/2020: Only TMS and CHS will follow an A/B rotation. All students on the elementary level will be attending 5 days a week.  The change on the elementary level was from full day to hybrid: in-person in the morning with early dismissal and remote in the afternoon.

At the July HVRSD Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Thomas Smith presented an expansive tentative school reopening plan for the coming semester (later adjusted via an email announcement) demonstrating a drastic shift in education following the novel coronavirus pandemic. The plan, which Smith noted at the meeting is subject to significant changes depending on direction and decisions from government officials, staff, or students, will change every aspect of education, from transportation to instruction to even lunches and sports.

“We don’t know the specifics of what’s going to happen in September based on either state directions or some feedback from our own parents about folks who are interested in remote learning,” Smith said. “All this is subject to change.”

In broad strokes, Smith’s plan will emphasize following social distancing guidelines, providing proper personal protective equipment to staff and students, and allowing flexible alternatives to students who opt for remote learning or in the case of a school closure.

“We wanted every student to have a live connection with a staff member every day,” Smith said.

All schools will be implementing a rotating schedule, a change announced via email, whereas kindergarten through fifth grade previously had the option for all-day in-class instruction. Students would be divided based on last name to either an “A day” or “B day,” where they will attend a half day of school in person before going home and transitioning to remote learning from lunchtime onwards. On their off days, students will be required to do work assigned to them.  CORRECTION 8/4/2020: Only TMS and CHS will follow an A/B rotation. All students on the elementary level will be attending 5 days a week.  The change on the elementary level was from full day to hybrid: in-person in the morning with early dismissal and remote in the afternoon. 

The reopening plan includes a number of health and safety standards as well as organizational restructures. Students will be screened at multiple points for temperature, symptoms, and potential exposure upon boarding the bus as well as entering the school. Buses will run at reduced capacity to accompany social distancing guidelines, with the District encouraging parents to opt out of transportation and bring their children to school, if able. Student arrivals will also be staggered based on grade level to provide social distancing and adequate time to screen students as well and any student with an elevated temperature placed in an “isolation room.”

Throughout the school day, classrooms will be socially distanced and students and staff will be required to wear masks. Hand sanitizer will be available in every room, with gloves additionally available to staff and plexiglass barriers at high traffic points. Frequent sanitation will take place as well, with Smith noting the addition of electrostatic and eco-friendly cleaners, UV wands, and ventilation systems running at maximum fresh air capacity. Any student entering the building at any point as well will have to have their temperature taken at a temperature kiosk.

In addition to physical well-being, Smith emphasized an increased attention to mental health, including additional mental health professionals, outreach, and staff training, as well as therapy dogs available to students at all schools.

Smith stated as well that “remote learning will be an option for parents in the State of New Jersey,” although overhauls to the current remote learning system will take effect.

Remote learning will aim to mirror in-person instruction, with live remote teaching, attendance taken, and required participation in virtual sessions. Smith also noted changes to OnCourse and a shift from using Google Hang to Zoom, which will help staff and parents stay more involved and better connected to students.

Despite the extensive plans, Smith noted that a number of contingency and “what if” scenarios were in place, with the coronavirus creating many unforeseen shifts in the education landscape. Smith felt confident that, in case of emergency, the district could transition back to a full remote learning environment.

“The odds of us going from in person to remote learning over the fall are better than average,” Smith said.

In case of a confirmed coronavirus test or exposure, schools can close for two to five days to provide adequate sanitation. Additionally, students who may have been exposed to the coronavirus would be required to quarantine at home for fourteen days and contact tracers would begin mapping potential spread. While the area already employs three contact tracers, Smith said the District will be training two additional contact tracers per school to assist. If a child is exposed to the coronavirus at school, parents of that child would be notified as well.

This plan will be implemented for the first 30 to 60 days of school, with a reassessment based on shifting guidelines from the State and Department of Health. After that period, the plan may remain the same or restrictions may be loosened or strengthened, depending on the situation.

Specifics, such as arrival times for students, student split for A and B days, and exact timelines were not provided yet, as Smith noted in the Board meeting that the plan is still subject to change. However, a finalized plan will be delivered in early August and the tentative first day of school is scheduled for September 9 (previously scheduled for September 3). An August 7 remote learning opt-in and transportation waiver deadline has also been announced by the District as well as a town hall meeting which will be held via Zoom on August 4 at 6:00 p.m. Questions for the town hall can submitted beforehand at the link here.

Smith urged residents to download the HVRSD app, available on most smart devices, for continued updates and questions to be directed via email to hvrsd2020@hvrsd.org. The District has also provided a reopening FAQ resource here.

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