FLEMINGTON, NJ - Four different task forces are expected to meet virtually over the course of the next few weeks in preparation for the re-opening of school buildings for in-person instruction in the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District (FRSD) this fall.

These four “Readiness Think Tank Task Forces” – operations and governance; finance; personnel; and physical and mental health – will be charged with exploring different topics and giving recommendations to Superintendent Dr. Kari McGann, who shared the district’s preparations at last week’s board meeting.

The goal is ensuring students, parents and staff are “returning in September with confidence,” she said.

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Further discussions will then take place before these task forces are expected to share their final recommendations at the July 27 board meeting.

“Our kids need to be back in our buildings,” McGann said. “Our parents need the opportunity to take a breath. Kids are better with teachers in the classrooms. We just have to make sure that we can follow all of the guidelines from the governor.”

She shared the district’s road map prior to Gov. Phil Murphy and Dr. Lamont Repollet, outgoing commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), releasing a 104-page document recently on how New Jersey school buildings will reopen this fall for in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Each district will have a level of flexibility in determining how best to meet the state’s minimum standards, as well as its own respective needs. The NJDOE is asking that districts share their plans with parents at least four weeks prior to the start of school.

The operations and governance taskforce will be co-chaired by McGann and Director of Operations/Security Jim Shumate, who is in charge of facilities. This task force will be charged with creating a rapid response plan for COVID-19 response, refusals and homeschooling remote instruction, classroom design and facility issues.  

The finance taskforce will be chaired by Business Administrator Stephanie Voorhees, and asked to make recommendations related to purchases of PPE, health and hygiene needs, transportation, meals and food distribution.

Assistant Superintendent Dan Bland will chair the personnel task force and lead the group in making recommendations related to planning schedules for building, workday compliance, social distancing measures and remote learning.

Dr. Danielle Hamblin, director of pupil services, will chair the fourth task force on physical and mental health, and her group will be tasked with making recommendations related to social distancing, counseling needs, health and safety.

“I trust that the Flemington-Raritan district will recommend a plan that works best for this community, parents, teachers and our students,” McGann said. “And it won’t just be one group that we are thinking about, when we’re making these plans. No matter what plan we use, we have to be thoughtful about the challenges that it presents to our teachers and the challenges that it presents to our parents. But, it can’t just be, ‘Well, this is best for students.’ We have to take into consideration all of those different groups and come up with a plan that works best.”

She pointed out to the board that she won’t let the size of the committees “take away from the work that has to happen,” and will be limiting the task forces to sizes no larger than 20 people, while ensuring that each task force has “a good representation of all of our schools, and of different groups within the community.”

She said she would like to have a board member and at least one building principal on each task force.

Even though these task forces will be meeting for the first time as early as this week, the district has been busy planning by looking at other states and seeing what guidance has been set out by their state leadership, like Massachusetts, where guidance had been given “to buy and purchase what you need to sustain you for 12 weeks.”

“We’ve already done some work,” she said. “We can’t wait for Gov. Murphy to give us guidance.”

For instance, the district has already placed an order to ensure touchless hand gel stations are available in every classroom.

A survey has also gone out to parents and students, so they can provide feedback on remote learning and share opinions and feelings about “returning to school in September with confidence,” McGann said.

The surveys can be accessed by clicking here.

Before the governor and the NJDOE released its official guidance, the district had been working through four possible scenarios come September based on what guidance had already been given regarding the reopening of colleges.

These four scenarios could present themselves in the following ways:

  1. All students in the physical buildings with social distancing in place
  2. Some students in physical buildings and some students virtual (An AM/PM or "A" Day/"B" Day Split Session)
  3. All students virtual (remote learning), as districts have been doing since March 18
  4. Intermittent virtual (a quick shift from in-person instruction to remote instruction).

“My other concern is that people are nervous, and they need to know from their superintendent and their building leaders that our schools are clean, healthy, the environment is hygienic, that we have people and tools in place to make sure that everybody can return safely,” McGann said.