FLEMINGTON, NJ - Monday was the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week across the nation, but also, the day when New Jersey residents were informed that public school students will not be returning to buildings for in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the pandemic.
Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement Monday afternoon that school buildings will remain closed for the rest of the school year during his daily coronavirus briefing – 11 days earlier than expected. For many New Jersey students, this means virtual learning will continue through the end of the school year so they can finish up their state-required minimum of 180 instruction days.
The final day of remote learning for this school year in the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District (FRSD) is set for June 23, according to a letter sent to the community by Superintendent Dr. Kari McGann.
“We miss our kids and our teachers so much,” McGann said at the Monday evening board of education meeting. “But we do feel that this is the best decision for the safety of our students and the safety of our staff members.”
The governor’s decision brings forth new questions about what happens beyond June.
McGann said the governor has yet to provide formal guidance on whether school buildings will be open for summer extended school year learning, which begins in July.
“As superintendent, I cannot say right now that the extended school year will happen remotely or virtually, but I am saying as superintendent that I think it is going to be highly unlikely that it will happen in the building,” she said.
Milestone events such as proms, graduations and other moving-up ceremonies, like for eighth graders at J.P. Case Middle School, will either occur in a safe and creative way virtually, or be delayed to this summer or fall.
“We’re meeting as an administrative team,” McGann said. “We’re already making plans to answer all those questions that so many of our parents have, from ‘How are we going to have 8th grade graduation? How are we going to get materials back to students that they may have left in the building? How are we going to recognize student accomplishments?’ All of those answers will be coming in the very near future.”
Expect some answers to those frequently asked questions to be provided Friday in her weekly message to the community, McGann said. All of the memos from the Superintendent's Office are posted on the district website.
Commissioner of Education Dr. Lamont Repollet announced plans alongside Murphy on Monday to formulate a steering committee consisting of a group of stakeholders in education to explore summer learning opportunities for all students. This committee will provide recommendations to administration as to which services need to continue to be provided remotely.
Also, the Department of Education will work with school officials to share ideas on safe and innovative ways to recognize end-of-year milestones for students.
“My team at the Department of Education is committed to helping each district find solutions uniquely tailored to the needs and priorities of their local communities,” Repollet said. “We recognize that in our work to honor students, it is critical that we elevate their voices and let their passion and innovative thinking inform decisions that impact them the most.”
In her own letter, McGann also addressed Murphy’s other announcement that spring sport competitions and in-person practices are cancelled.
“In Flemington-Raritan, our middle school athletes are working with their coaches virtually to achieve workout goals and build team collegiality,” McGann said. “While we recognize this is not the same as a spring season, we know that our coaches and athletes are working together through virtual sessions to continue to build our athletes’ athleticism and expertise in their particular sport.”
At the same board meeting, members showed their appreciation to teachers with a virtual round of applause for their week of recognition.
McGann said Teacher Appreciation Week “should be every week, but this week, we really do take a moment to thank our teachers for what they are doing for our kids.”
“If you’re reading anything about the workload on teachers, not just Flemington-Raritan teachers, but teachers all over, they are juggling their own family responsibilities, and they are juggling classroom responsibilities,” McGann said. “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a letter, or an email or a note of recognition from a parent or a community member for our staff members.”
Many board members expressed their gratitude as well.
“I just wanted to say thank you to the entire staff of the district for all they’ve done,” said board member Susan Mitcheltree. “I know it’s teachers appreciation week, and they’d rather be in school with their kids, but they’re not. Thank you for all you’ve done.”
Board member Edward Morgan said teachers have done an “absolutely fantastic job” with the virtual learning, noting that they are making the time “inclusive and engaging” and how “both of his kids are actually really enjoying it.”
President Tim Bart also commended all the PTOs for all they’ve done during this time.