BARNEGAT, NJ – The Barnegat Board of Education voted yesterday to approve Phase 2 of the district’s reopening one plan. The hybrid model of learning will be replaced with five days of in-person instruction on an abbreviated schedule with a targeted start date of November 16.
Over 900 students districtwide have been enrolled for remote only education since the schools reopened in September. The enhanced plan will allow virtual learners to follow their classes by synchronized instruction.
“As we take one step closer to attempt to return to normalcy, I think there’s something we need to reiterate,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis. “I think that our community has done a great job as is evidenced by where we are as we approach six weeks into the school year.”
According to Latwis, there have been a total of six confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the district. The positive test results are equally divided between students and staff members. None have necessitated the shutdown of any in-person classes.
School officials sent out a survey requesting that families share their preference as far as the next step in reopening the district fully. More than 1500 families responded, with 62.3% indicating they wanted classes to resume on a daily basis. Many requested five full days.
“We don’t feel we can do the full five days safely at this time,” shared Jim Barbiere, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Human Resources in his presentation of the Phase 2 reopening plan. “A big part of this plan is to make it sustainable with a very measured approach.”
In-person instruction for children in grades K-12 will total 4.5 hours five days a week. Beginning and start times are indicated below:
According to Barbiere, the primary obstacle in returning to a full day model is food service. The district is concerned about indoor dining as discussed by the state and decided that “grab and go meals” represent the safest option. The meals are available to virtual students as well.
Students who return to brick and mortar classrooms will find a new accessory designed to further insulate them. The district plans to purchase tri-fold dividers for each in-person learner.
“The dividers fit nicely on the student’s desks and create another layer or barrier of protection,” said Barbiere. “Students and staff would still be required to wear masks.”
Virtual learners are encouraged to follow the classroom schedule, although they will not be penalized if they cannot sign in for the live instruction. Teachers will also record their Google Live Stream and post them in Google Classroom.
“We do want to the greatest extent possible to transition to synchronous instruction,” stressed Barbiere. “All students, whether they are present in the classroom or remote will be able to participate real time and live during the school day.”
Teachers will split afternoons between virtual meetings with students, and time spent to be successful in the new model. This includes three afternoons dedicated to planning and preparation, as well as meetings with master teachers, data coaches and supervisors.
The updated plan gives students additional access to staff on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. Faculty members would be available for office hours and additional help, small group meetings, and connecting with virtual learners.
District transportation would follow the existing plan as far as the combination of school routes. Buses will continue to be sanitized between runs and students are required to wear masks.
Patrick Booth, the father of a Barnegat student expressed his disappointment that the district would be giving parents what he called "all or nothing options." He asked school officials to consider also keeping the hybrid model in place.
"My family will be majorly affected by this," Booth said. "I have no one to pick up my kids after I drop them off at the new times."
Booth said his work schedule is based upon the current model and that he would have to relinquish his job if it no longer existed.
Sean O’Brien was the sole board member to vote against moving from the hybrid model to five days of in-person instruction. His own elementary school children attend Barnegat Schools by remote access.
“Based on the expected number of students per class, we can expect twenty students per classroom if virtual remains the same,” said O’Brien. “Students will be less than six feet apart, and we will rely on flimsy barriers, and masks, which are difficult to enforce.”
“The students will not be able to interact with their friends, will need to remain at their desks face forward, all looking through a divider,” O’Brien continued. “The only difference between this and virtual learning is location and a wi-fi connection.”
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