FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Flemington-Raritan Regional School District (FRSD) is not closing any of its schools, or cancelling any school trips or events at this time, amid the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), Superintendent Kari McGann said at the board of education meeting Monday.
Less than an hour before the start of the 7 p.m. board meeting, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that he had declared a State of Emergency “to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
“Executive Order No. 103 declares a state of emergency and public health emergency across all 21 counties in New Jersey, allowing state agencies and departments to utilize state resources to assist affected communities responding to and recovering from COVID-19 cases,” the announcement said.
As of 1:30 p.m. Monday, the Office of the Governor had confirmed 11 presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in New Jersey, but indicated that the overall risk to individuals remained low.
At about noontime Tuesday, Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver announced the first New Jersey death in a case of COVID-19. The individual was a man in his 60s from Bergen County.
“We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey,” Murphy said in the announcement. “Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can — across all levels of government — to protect the people of New Jersey.”
More than 15 public school districts across the state have announced varying degrees of closures or altered schedules.
“I want to reassure the board and members of the public, as well as our community, that our safety of students, staff and faculty is our top priority,” McGann said at the meeting. “We are closely monitoring the outbreak of COVID-19, or coronavirus, and as soon as I have information, I share that information with the board, and I share that information with the community, as well as my staff and faculty.”
McGann has already sent out multiple letters to families with a goal of providing “clear and concise information.” The most recent letter, published on the district’s website, went out Monday, and stated there are no talks of closing the district.
However, in the event of closures or cancellations, the district will contact families via the notification system used for snow days.
According to the most recent letter, the district is taking extra precautions when cleaning facilities and on school buses to limit the spread of germs. Commonly touched areas are given special attention.
McGann had previously shared that the district adopted enhanced school cleanliness and disinfection protocols, including the disinfection of frequently touched services and objects, and the custodial staff has increased the level of cleaning and disinfecting in rooms that have had students with symptoms of cold and flu and the stomach virus.
The Office of the Governor has also instructed districts to prepare for virtual learning from home, McGann said at the meeting.
The New Jersey Department of Education had provided district administrators recently with guidance that advised “schools may be asked to close preemptive or reactively, therefore schools should be making plans for what to do if there are recommendations for closing schools or canceling events.”
McGann said she is meeting with other area Hunterdon County school superintendents and the Executive County Superintendent's Office Wednesday afternoon to do additional planning, and expects to have additional information to share after the meeting.
“I expect to learn more information at that meeting,” McGann said at the Monday board meeting. “Right now, the guidelines from the state are vague at best. We are doing our due diligence to make sure that we have a plan ready in case we do have to do virtual schooling. Mr. (Daniel) Bland, the assistant superintendent and our curriculum team, were hard at work on Friday. The governor’s information came to my desk on Thursday. Curriculum team was hard at work Friday. I met with the nurses today. I met with the cabinet today. So we are certainly not sitting back in our chair with our hands underneath our legs, waiting for somebody to make decisions for us. We’ve hit the ground running, and we’re getting a plan in place.”
McGann encouraged families to continue to follow the guidelines put forth by the New Jersey Department of Health and Hunterdon County Health Department, like washing hands with soap and water, and avoiding the urge to shake hands and give hugs (instead, give elbow bumps).
“If you’re sick, stay home,” said board president Tim Bart. “That’s really critical, because we have in society this idea that we should keep going. We’re all that way. ‘Oh, I’m OK.’ No. It benefits the community if you really do keep a child or yourself home if there is something. Whether it is the flu, or this, the reality is the same.”
“We do ask the community to be vigilant in following those rules,” McGann added. “Some of it does feel counterintuitive to the way we roll, but we have to be smart.”
For updates and more information on the coronavirus, visit www.nj.gov/health, or http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/coronavirus.html.