SPARTA, NJ –Sparta public school students are going back to school but it will be far from normal.  The board of education members and acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney announced an “executive summary” of the plan to return to school at the July meeting on Thursday night. He cautioned this is the plan as they know it “on July 30 at 7:42 p.m.” and could change before school starts in September.

“Our goal is full day.  If we could choose full day within the guidelines we would,” McQueeney said.

McQueeney said the way the buildings are structured does not allow for school to open fully, within the guidelines put out by the state.

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The Plan

  • Grade K through 12 will be divided into A and B cohorts, alphabetically, “to reduce the number of students in the building, promoting social distancing.”
  • A and B cohorts of students will go to school on alternating weeks.
  • Parents will have the option to have students at home full time.
  • School days will be shortened “similar but not identical to early dismissal.”
  • All students, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks, unless there is a medical condition.  A doctor’s note will be required for exemption.
  • Attendance will be taken for all grades every day.
  • Attendance polices will remain in effect, though flexible attendance polices will be considered for students joining virtually if they are in a daycare. Parents are asked to communicate that to the school.
  • Regular grading policies will remain in effect.
  • Special Education students will have the option to attend school full time on both A and B weeks.
  • Grades K through 5, while in school will have typical learning experience but with a shortened day, “possibly longer than a typical early dismissal.”
  • Grades K through 5 while in school will have specials such as art, music and physical education; 20 minute periods.
  • Grades K through 5 while on the remote learning week will have asynchronous work to do with access to teachers.
  • Grades K through 5 who will be working remotely 100% of the time will have a fulltime remote teacher, one per grade level.
  • Grades K through 3 will be issued chromebooks for use at home.
  • Grades 4 and 5 will be issued chromebooks to bring back and forth to school.
  • Grades 6 through 12 grade students while in school will have typical learning experience with shortened periods and no lunch.
  • Grades 6 through 12 grade students while at home will have lessons streamed. Every class will have a webcam to stream the classroom experience.  They will be required to attend class during the regular class period. 
  • Grades 6-8 will have eight periods per day with shortened periods.
  • Grades K through 8 will have enrichment pullouts.
  • Grades 9 – 12 will have period one through four classes on Monday and Wednesday, period five through eight Tuesday and Thursday and all eight classes on Friday, with shorter times. Classes will not rotate.
  • Grades 9-12 lab work will take place during regular class period.
  • Lunches will be provided for students receiving free and reduced lunch.  “Grab and Go” options are being discussed with Sodexo food services for all students.
  • Classes will be allowed to be held outdoors “as much as we can.”
  • If a student who is supposed to be in school is home sick, will join the class online if possible.
  • The school district will be supplying masks for all staff.  Students will be responsible for bringing their own masks. 
  • The district is still evaluating co-curricular activities.
  • The district is still evaluating use of buildings by outside organizations such as Girl and Boy Scouts- cleaning protocols are an issue.
  • Schools will be cleaned every day, every desk, every high touch surface, bathrooms…
  • The district currently has four electrostatic sprayers with 25 more on order.
  • Busing will be provided.  Seats will be assigned to help with potential contact tracing.
  • If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 they and any family members in Sparta schools will be required to quarantine.
  • If the school becomes aware of a student or staff member testing positive, they will be reported to the health department for follow-up.  If a physician is aware of a positive test they will report to the health department for follow up.

The administrators and staff will be ready for the district to go to 100% remote learning “to be called as if it was a snow day” should circumstances require. 

McQueeney said the district is taking its guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education and locally from the Sussex County Department of Health, who will be determining how to respond to someone with symptoms

He said over the weekend parents will be asked to complete a two question survey; will you be keeping your student home full time, will your student be riding the bus. The deadline for completing the survey is August 9. Parents will find their access to the parent portal including grades, schedules locked until they complete the survey, according to McQueeney.

Parents who elect to keep their children out of school will be making that commitment through the end of the first trimester or December 1.   Parents who elect to drive their student to school will be giving up that bus seat for the entire year.  They will not be able to change their mind through the year.

Responses to the Plan

 After hearing the plan and waiting for the second public comment period, parents went to the podium.  Most asked clarifying questions or challenged an aspect of the plan but no parent appeared to be completely against the school reopening options presented by the district. 

One resident, Chris Csoka did question the data on which the district had decided not to fully reopen.  He cited statistics from the county showing low infections numbers especially for children.  He also challenged the district’s policy regarding masks, garnering a supportive response from the audience.

McQueeney said the district is guided by New Jersey Department of Education that said “if social distancing is not possible people should be encouraged to wear masks.” The acting Superintendent said the district decided to require masks because “we are not going to be able to socially distance in every situation.” 

Susan Sawey, president of the Sparta Education Association, was the only person that called for schools to remain totally closed for all students with a continuation of remote learning. She said their “priority has always been the physician and mental health and safety of students” but “it’s impossible to protect students and ourselves from this invisible enemy.”

She said there is “absolutely no way this board or administration can guarantee that someone, student or employee will not contract or transmit this deadly virus.”  Sawey likened bringing students and staff back into the building to being part of “an experiment with possibly deadly consequences.”

Sawey pointed to three districts in New Jersey that are going to virtual instruction and said it will be safe to return to school, “only when this deadly virus can be controlled or completely eradicated.”

Parent Lauren Collier said, “…With all respect to the SEA,” the coronavirus is a “highly recoverable illness,” encouraging a “more progressive” view to reopening because “New Jersey is a state that peaked early.” She said she was surprised to see there was not more flexibility in the use of masks “why social distance plus masks” with the district limiting the cohorts in the buildings.  She said she “agreed with limited masking” for times when students are closer together, “passing in the hall way and on buses” for example.

“We’re not seeing the data that shows children who are asymptomatic carriers are the vector of this illness,” Collier said. She pointed to recent statements by Governor Murphy encouraging districts to get students back in schools.

McQueeney said teachers will have the flexibility to remove masks if social distancing is possible and younger students especially will have “scheduled mask breaks.”  He said they needed to require masks so the authority to govern when masks can be removed rests with the “classroom manager.”

Collier raised the concern that not every parent has the ability to work from home and questioned how parents can be expected to manage working with students home every other week.  She made the point that the need for childcare or daycare exposes the children to even more people.

The acting Superintendent said the reopening plan was based on the work of a committee of more than 50 district staff members.  

The Restart and Recovery plan was created by a committee of a cross section of district staff.  The 89-page plan should be available to the public shortly, according to McQueeney. There was discussion at the meeting about creating forums to exchange of information, questions and concerns once the plan was released. Plans were not finalized at the meeting.  The committee members:

  • Patrick McQueeney acting Superintendent
  • Saskia Brown Director of Student Support Services,
  • Adrienne Castorina Supervisor of Special Services,
  • Amanda Cronin Alpine teacher,
  • Alexa Griffin Mohawk Avenue School nurse,
  • Angela Feldmann Helen Morgan teacher,
  • Angela Deluccia Sparta High School Media Specialist
  • Christopher Burns Assistant Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds,
  • Ann Warhol Special Services Secretary, SEA vice president,
  • Brad Davis Sparta Middle School vice principal,
  • Chris Tappen Supervisor Buildings and Grounds,
  • Christine Aloisio Alpine nurse,
  • Danielle Colte Supervisor of College and Career Readiness,
  • Deborah Gianuzzi Sparta High School teacher,
  • Donna Gallagher Helen Morgan nurse,
  • Doug Layman Helen Morgan principal,
  • Frank Ciaburri Sparta Middle School vice principal,
  • Giuseppe Leone Alpine principal,
  • Katie Arbolino Supervisor of Mathematics,
  • Kim Bragg Sparta Board of Education president, parent,
  • Laura Meade Sparta Middle School teacher,
  • Laura Trent Mohawk Avenue School principal,
  • Marisa Wilson Supervisor of Science,
  • Mary Hassenplug Supervisor of English Language Arts Grades 6 to 12
  • Michael Lauricella Sparta High School vice principal,
  • Michael Cronin Coordinator of Technology,
  • Neil Spidaletto Chief Sparta Township Police Department, parent,
  • Peter Miller Alpine vice principal,
  • Ronnie Spring Sparta High School principal,
  • Steve Stoner Sparta High School Athletic Director,
  • Suzanne Onnembo-Olimpio interim Director of Special Services,
  • Michael Gregory Director of District Operations,
  • Christopher Olivo Sparta High School Security,
  • Damon Modula Alpine custodian,
  • Devon Esposito Sparta High School nurse,
  • Jamie Barker Sparta High School vice principal,
  • Jane Esposito Sparta High School psychologist,
  • Jeff McCarrick Detective Sergeant Sparta Police Department, Parent,
  • Kristine Demay assistant Business Administrator,
  • Lillian Farrell Sparta Middle School nurse,
  • Michael Tobin Sparta High School teacher,
  • Niamh Grano, Sparta Board of Education member,
  • Pamela Hinman business administrator,
  • Patricia Trojanowski assistant Supervisor of Transportation,
  • Ria Gurski Supervisor of Transportation,
  • Robert Kelly Helen Morgan security,
  • Robert Zywicki Sparta Board of Education member, parent,
  • Scott Kercher Supervisor of World Language, Social Studies,
  • Steven Rendle Technology and Network Specialist,
  • Susan Dick instructional aid,
  • Susan Lorentz Sparta High School psychologist,
  • Susan Sawey Sparta Middle School teacher Sparta Education Association president,
  • Suzanne Smith Mohawk Avenue School teacher,
  • Tara Rossi Supervisor of Literacy Kindergarten through grade 5,
  • Tracey Rivera Helen Morgan assistant Principal

There was discussion at the meeting about creating forums to exchange of information, questions and concerns once the plan was released. Plans were not finalized at the meeting.

The next board of education meeting is schedule for Thursday, August 27.