CAMDEN, NJ — An all-remote learning option will be available to parents not comfortable with sending their children to school in the upcoming fall semester amid rising concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
But what about teachers, faculty, nurses and other adults who ordinarily work in school buildings?
Although sparse in details, Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs — who was joined by Joe Meloche, Superintendent of the Cherry Hill School District, and Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli — said Tuesday that currently, roughly a third of staff members have expressed they "require accommodations or felt they may not be able to come back in person" in September.
McCombs did not say how many of that total comprised of teachers.
The Camden City School District (CCSD) is currently drawing up plans to address various scenarios, she added.
“We are very hopeful that as we roll out the plan, and provide all of the supports that we're putting in place to ensure that staff members are safe, that possibly that number might go down,” McCombs said. “But we know that that is a real fact and we have to have contingency plans in place to make sure that we can meet the needs of our learners given our staff members' concerns and fears.”
The Camden school district has perhaps the toughest call to make ahead of the fall semester, as the municipality has confirmed the most coronavirus cases in the county. As of Tuesday, with Cappelli reporting 55 more cases, that total stands at 2,389 cases and 528 deaths since March.
In a letter to the community, the CCSD says proposed reopening plans - made in partnership with parents, teachers, administrators and union leadership - will be made public during the next school board meeting July 28.
“Over the past few months, our District Reopening Task Force has considered several learning models including remote and hybrid options,” McCombs wrote in the correspondence posted Thursday.
In this afternoon's press conference, McCombs also noted that personal protective equipment (PPE) is currently being procured through CARES Act funds, as well as plexiglass barriers, what is needed to screen students and staff, and other necessary equipment to help facilitate social distancing learning.
“[Safety] is the primary thing that we are focusing on, and we have to make sure that our plans rise to the occasion of ensuring that that is at the top of the list,” the superintendent said.
In the event someone in the building gets sick, Meloche said that he, McCombs and all regional superintendents have appropriately been in contact with Dr. Paschal Nwako, the county’s public health coordinator, in order to provide direction.
“He's informed us that the department will handle the contact tracing, you know, should there be a positive result, but we will work with the Department of Health about next steps,” Meloche said.
McCombs said Tuesday she was "not 100% sure" the district currently had enough teachers to open schools.
“We want to make sure that we also are working proactively in order to ensure that the certification process for substitutes is one that is streamlined and quick, so that we can get as many subs in our pool as well, because we know that will be a challenge for us — staffing,” McCombs said.
A sign-in sheet is available for anyone interested in speaking during next week's 5:30 p.m. school board meeting. Attendees can provide both a spoken or written comment.
School officials said the sheet will close at 5 p.m. on July 28. More information is available at camdencity.ss12.sharpschool.com/advisory_board