Editor's note: Aidan English is a rising junior at Gov. Livingston High School participating in the TAPinto Berkeley Heights internship program. To learn more about writing for TAPinto Berkeley Heights, contact email@example.com.
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - On Thursday, the Berkeley Heights Board of Education set forth their plan for reopening schools within the Berkeley Heights School District for the upcoming fall semester. At the meeting, which was held over the video conference app zoom, members of the community were informed of the three possible ways the school year could look like. In short, the options are as follows:
All students, except those in Kindergarten and Pre-school, will attend school for in-person instruction. The school will end at different times for each school and students will continue possible virtual learning until the end of the school day from home in small groups. Lunch will not be provided.
Same as plan “A” with the following changes: 50 percent of students will attend in-person classes one week and the next week the other 50 percent will attend. While not in person, students will have virtual instruction.
Schools will resort to full virtual learning.
Kindergarten: Four hour days. Two groups alternating every three days.
Pre-K: Will meet Four days a week. Split into two groups (AM/PM)
* All of these plans are subject to possible change at the digression of public health official’s advice and the Berkeley Heights Board of Education.*
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Melissa Varley recommended plan “A” to the school board, saying, “While there is no perfect model, we believe that this is the best plan for our students academically, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally. Pointing back to our guiding principles, we are striving for the optimal balance of delivering a quality learning plan while considering the overall health of all stakeholders and our ability to mitigate risk for COVID-19.”
As laid out in the district’s PowerPoint presentation, schools will have a strict daily cleaning procedure to ensure the student’s safety. While on-campus students will be required to wear face coverings and social distance as much as possible. Students with breathing problems will be required to wear a face shield instead of a mask. If a student happens to lose their mask, the district will provide them with a disposable one.
If a student is exposed to COVID-19 either by a teacher or other students, the student and anyone who has had close contact with the positive student or is in their class will need to have documentation that they have tested negative before returning to school. Additionally, members of the community will be kept in close communication from the district if any cases were to emerge. Though students will need documentation after possible exposure, no staff or students are required to show documentation of a negative COVID- 19 test prior to the start of school in the fall.
All members of the community, especially those who don’t have adequate transportation to school, will be able to use the district provided busing. All students and drivers will be required to wear masks. The district noted that “It is impossible to completely implement social distancing on the bus. To properly social distance we would have to increase the number of buses tenfold, both financially and practically impossible.”
Out of the 2,202 families (86 percent of the district population) polled before the board’s decision, 68 percent of families opted for plan “A” while 32 percent said they would not send their child back to school. All students still have the choice to not go back to school and continue with virtual learning if they so choose.
Some community members took to the board’s zoom call on Thursday to ask questions during the “question and answer” portion of the meeting. Many parents, students, and teachers raised concerns about opening too quickly and questioned why the district chose plan “A” instead of Plan “B”. Some pressing questions were left unanswered. Lisa Moretti, a health and fitness teacher at GL, questioned the board’s decision and pointed out that in her 31- student class it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a social distance of at least six feet. An article going more in depth in regard to the community's concerns can be found here.
As the nation prepares for a possible second wave along with school in the fall, each school is focusing on their main priority: safety. While there will never be zero risk of being infected within schools, even with proper safety precautions, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated, “Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community.” With that stated, some members of the Berkeley Heights community still feel as though the Board of Education should alter their plans to ensure that safety for everyone can be achieved.