BARNEGAT, NJ – The first few weeks of school are now behind Barnegat public school students, with many still figuring out their schedules. Whether they are enrolled for hybrid or remote learning, the challenges are some they have never faced.
Opponents of the district’s adaption of a grade banding model lament cannot understand why the reconfiguration was not delayed. Proponents suggest that the change does not make much difference in students adapting to their new normal.
Children are resilient, after all, some say. Even the idea of wearing masks throughout the day came with less resistance than expected.
Barnegat was one of the first districts to reopen its doors since they were closed in mid-March. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis said he was very proud of the work everyone had done to make things work in what has not been an easy situation.
Latwis admitted to some hiccups along the way. The school district’s bulk order of laptops, promised for an August delivery, came in 900 shy of the expected amount.
Some of the platforms, such as those used for virtual learning still need some fine-tuning.
Transportation for hybrid students is yet another issue. Parents can expect surveys to identify the problems and address a means of shortening routes.
BEA representative William “Chip” Junker offered some praises during the public commentary portion of the meeting. He did not limit his accolades to just the teachers and staff who came in early to get ready for the new school year.
“The grounds people, custodians and maintenance that moved everything also get my personal thanks,” said Junker. “The amount of work they did deserves an expression of public appreciation for the amount of work they did.”
Chris Sharpe, a candidate running for a board seat wondered how COVID-19 impacted the school budget. He suggested there were both pluses and minuses as a result of the pandemic.
“There are obviously additional expenses, such as cleaning,” Sharpe stated. “I would assume there are also some obvious cost savings – not having transportation costs, for example.”
Sharpe cautiously referenced the adage of taking advantage of the bad situation promulgated by COVID-19. He wanted to know if the crisis would lead to something positive for the district.
“We were able to accelerate our three-year plan to do a one to one technology initiative,” answered Stephen Brennan, Business Administrator. “In hindsight, it wasn’t really the plan.”
Justin Deemer, another board candidate, shared his thoughts on what he considered the “silver lining” from the whole experience of schools shut down and virtual learning becoming a critical tool.
“My kids are really learning technology and getting used to Google Classroom and Google Meet,” said Deemer. “They are teaching me things.”
The question in many people’s minds came from yet another board candidate, George Fedorczyk. His children are back to school in the hybrid model. He felt the school’s reopening went as smoothly as it could go – but wanted to know what was next.
“Are we heading towards a benchmark to go back to five days of school?” asked Fedorczyk. “Or some version of what the light at the end of the tunnel looks like?”
According to Latwis, the district is already studying what it will take to bring the students back. Each of the school principals is looking to their pandemic response teams to look at what roadblocks would be in place if nothing changed right now. Executive orders from the governor would be an example of a roadblock.
Latwis anticipates that the district would be looking at a five-day half day model initially. Serving lunch represents one of the biggest challenges.
“Right now, lunches are in the classrooms,” Latwis explained. “If we had every student back, I don’t know that we could continue to do that that because students would be in closer proximity and removing masks.”
The district also reviews weekly updates from the Department of Health regarding positive COVID-19 cases. Ocean County has been characterized as one of the hot spots, which could represent an issue. So far, it has not worked that way.
“I’d like to see us maintain a low risk status for a couple of weeks before we made those changes,” continued the Barnegat Superintendent of Schools.
Just a couple of days after the meeting, Latwis reported the first positive case on COVID-19 in the district. Those who were in contact with the high school student were notified of possible exposure. Classes remain in session.
One thing is certain. The year 2020 will become legendary as the time that educators, parents, and students, learned something novel. Reality can be less predictable than a work of fiction.
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