BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Monday’s scheduled meeting of the Bernards Township Board of Education has been postponed until Thursday, July 23, in order to allow school officials to fine tune a September school opening plan.

Superintendent Nick Markarian said the district needed more time to try to have a plan ready for September.

The meeting is scheduled to be held “virtually,” with access on a Livestream on the computer. The session will begin at 7 p.m. Instructions on how to click into the meeting and send a comment or question will be on the home page at at 6 p.m. Thursday.

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On July 6, the board and a virtual crowd of likely more than 500 people heard and debated the intricacies of reopening school while the COVID-19 virus still plagues the state.

Possible 'blended' schedule of on-site and remote school week

School administrators discussed different possible schedules for reopening, but seemed to gravitate to a “blended” schedule in which students would attend class in physical buildings for part of the week, and be expected to learn remotely at home for other hours.

Any reopening would require everyone using masks, social distancing and increased sanitizing procedures, at the least.

Markarian said the district wanted as much in-school instruction as could be safely implemented for the 5,000 students and more than 800 staff members.

Markarian noted July 6 the process of planning this fall's school reopening is complex, with each decision taking “astronomical time and energy.” He said, “We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.”

Assistant Superintendent Kristin Fox described scenarios in which students might be split into A and B groups by some method, with middle and high schoolers in the building for two days a week, learning from home two days and working on their own or having conferences with teachers on Wednesdays. 

Scenarios were sketched for elementary schools. In one, children would attend either alternate days or in morning/afternoon three-hour sessions, with an hour break for cleaning of the school in the intermission. In another, the class would be split in half attending two days a week, with remote learning on Wednesdays.

According to a survey conducted by the district, a vast majority of the community wants the buildings to reopen, but a significant minority was hesitant to commit to returning.

In a survey of parents, parents of more than 80 percent of students said they intended to send their children back for in-person instruction. There were about 950 responses to the online survey.

In a survey of staff in June, 460 of the 545 who responded said they intended to return to buildings. That left 85 staffers (about 15 percent) desiring to work remotely.

If distance learning was used, teachers and administrators have been talking since May about how to have more live instruction, increase teacher and pupil accountability to attend and do the work, and how to train teachers over the summer.

Local and regional health officials discussed the imperative for three W’s -- wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance – that must be observed in any school reopening.

The panel discussed social distance guidelines, the effectiveness of masks versus face shields, whether barriers be erected and whether taking staffers and students’ temperatures every day would be effective in finding anyone potentially ill.