BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Superintendent of Schools Melissa Varley discussed the rationale behind her recommendation to the Board of Education to follow Plan A, holding in-person instruction in all schools in the district, for four hours a day, requiring masks, and social distancing. There will be no lunch, changes to rules regarding transportation, and other alterations to student schedules, activities and procedures. Her statement follows:
"I want to add my own thank yous to those Doug has already given. In particular, I need to thank all of those members of the BHEA who volunteered their time to help us develop plans for the opening of school this coming year. It is a testament to the dedication and professionalism of our staff that over 40 of our ten month employees have freely given their time, talent, and invaluable insights across all facets of the planning process. In addition, I have to recognize the administrative team for all of their hard work in developing multiple reopening strategies, which often have had to undergo multiple revisions as new state directives have come into play.
"There are over 600 school districts in the state of New Jersey developing reopening plans for the Fall of 2020. There is not a single district in the state of New Jersey that has developed a plan that makes all of their parents, teachers, and students happy.
"As you will see during the presentation, the Berkeley Heights Public Schools reopening plan is rooted in the NJ Department of Education reopening guidelines and the recommendations of various International, National, and State medical authorities. It is also in line with many other New Jersey districts’ reopening plans. I want to assure everyone that in addition to being in constant communication with the state and county, I also meet with the local Department of Health on a near daily basis, and I am as well versed as I can be on the current state of the Covid 19 crisis.
"I have every respect for the rights of individual parents to take actions that they believe are in the best interests of their children. However, it is my responsibility to take actions for the health and safety of students and staff of the Berkeley Heights Public Schools while providing the best possible education for our students.
"I am making my recommendations to the BOE for the reopening of school based on the belief that giving students the most ‘normal’ educational experience possible is the best solution. This belief is rooted in a life-time of professional experience. At the heart of education are the relationships between teachers and students. All of us know them - the teachers we connected to who made a difference in our lives. These critical connections are devastated in remote learning. Our students and teachers need those in-person connections.
"My recommendation is also informed by health considerations. Most of these are related to Covid-19 - and the recommendation takes this into account with numerous health and safety protocols, procedures, and remediations. But, there are also other less obvious, and sometimes hidden, health and safety concerns that drive my recommendation for as ‘normal’ an educational experience as possible: the stress and mental health of our students and families. These are areas with a very real impact that have been frequently under reported in the face of the pandemic. Our students desperately need the interaction and socialization that school provides. Everyone- students, teachers and families -needs the structure of in-person, in-building school.
"My recommendation provides a balance between the health and safety of students and staff in the face of Covid-19 and my firm conviction that everyone needs as ‘normal’ a schedule as possible within those parameters."