BARNEGAT/WARETOWN, NJ – In at least one regard, the news fell upon grateful ears. School leaders in both Barnegat and Ocean Township somewhat anticipated Governor Phil Murphy’s announcement today. Murphy had originally planned on waiting until May 10th to decide if students would return to in-school instruction. The early notice that schools would remain closed allows the local districts to work out plans.
Shawn Denning, Jr., who serves as the president of the Ocean Township Board of Education expressed some disappointment in the governor’s decision. He thinks there were other alternatives.
“There were ways we could return in a limited fashion,” suggests Denning. “We could have realistically reduced class sizes and initiated programs that included social distancing. It’s a tremendous loss for the children not to meet with their teachers in person.”
According to Denning, he recalls the health commissioner saying that seventy to eighty percent of the population would ultimately become infected with the COVID-19 virus. Denning understands that vulnerable children should be sheltered but thinks supplementing virtual learning with classroom instruction just makes sense.
In the meantime, Denning sees the impact of the pandemic as motivation for the school board to enhance their technology accessibility to better meet distance learning needs. He’s also not sure what’s going to happen when it’s time to reopen schools in September.
“We would like to be proactive by that time, “Denning says. “We don’t want to find ourselves in a position where we’re reactive in the fall.”
Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Lommerin admits he’s glad Murphy made a decision and says he wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Lommerin is concerned about the wellbeing of the children and staff.
“Everything we did as far as sheltering in place would be for naught if we went back to early,” shares Lommerin. “I think coming back now would actually be disruptive.”
Among other things, both Denning and Lommerin have one group of children they want recognized. The district is working with the PTA and Recreation Department to set up something special for the sixth-grade graduating class. The goal is to follow COVID-19 guidelines in arranging for children to say their farewells as the move to the Southern Regional Middle School.
“I also want parents to know that they all students are eligible for school lunch,” Lommerin shared. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am - noon, take home food is available at the Waretown Elementary School.
In Barnegat, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis was already working on the logistics in case Murphy decided to reopen the schools. He doesn’t disagree with the governor’s decision.
“Like every decision that we make, I am happy that our students and staff’s safety was put at the forefront,” says Latwis. “Now, we can begin to solidify our plans for graduation, proms, and some of our other events.”
According to Latwis, he and the other Ocean County Superintendents who have high schools in their districts have a virtual roundtable meeting scheduled for tomorrow.
“We will collectively brainstorm on ways to create memorable experiences,” Latwis stated. “Of course, our plans will be contingent on following the governor’s directives.”
Latwis sent out a letter to parents today informing them that virtual learning platforms will continue. He promised to let them know dates and times when students could come in and retrieve things from the classrooms and/or lockers.
Barnegat Board of Education President Michael J. Hickey feels that Murphy’s mandate allows the district to work on focusing on academics and remains optimistic.
“One of my biggest concerns is making sure we honor our seniors,” adds Hickey. “Their final year didn’t work out fairly for them. It’s also hard on the students who are athletes.”
Hickey says that school boards are surveyed regarding issues such as closing down and moving to distance learning. The results are subsequently submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education. In this case, the focus will be on determining what schools can do to have safe events.
Both districts plans are based on the premise that schools will reopen in September. In the meantime, their leadership intends to be prepared for whatever the future holds.