SOMERSET, NJ – Based on results of a survey sent to parents and teachers, and with recommendations of its reopening plan committee, the Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School (TEECS) will, as of press time, implement a modified in-person instructional model along with virtual learning for fall 2020. 

According to TEECS administrators, a two-option survey sent to parents last month found that 75-percent preferred remote learning over in-person instruction when classes resume on Sept. 1. With just 25-percent of its 600 K-12th graders wishing to return to the building at this time, TEECS has submitted to the state a plan to offer in-person instruction four days a week – as opposed to two. 

In-person classes will take place Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Synchronous remote learning will take place Monday through Friday with those selecting in-person instruction also learning remotely on Wednesdays. Students will follow the same class schedule at school and at home.  

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As of press time, the school is scheduled to run as per the current 2020-2021 calendar with the reopening model in place through December and, according to an email sent to parents, once a choice of in-person or virtual is made it will remain in effect until that time. Should the number of students who wish to attend in-person classes increase come January, enrollment could be split into 'A' and 'B' groups. Additionally, should school be mandated to close, all students will shift to a complete remote learning model. 

For those who attend in-person instruction, things will look slightly different this fall with a four-page document outlining the health and safety protocols in place for fall 2020 released by the TEECS Reopening Plan Committee. The school pandemic response team will work with recommendations and orders from state and local health departments, the office of the governor, Center for Disease Control and the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) at all times. Guidelines, available online at https://www.nj.gov/education/reopening/NJDOETheRoadBack.pdf, include but aren’t limited to: 

• Masks, shields or other protective devices will be worn by staff and volunteers at all times, except during scheduled 'mask breaks' with allowances made for both students and staff for medically documented reasons. Students will also be required to wear face masks/coverings at all times while on the bus as well as during scheduled after-care programs

• All students and staff will be screened for a temperature check before entering the school; anyone who exhibits a temperature of 100.4 or higher will not be permitted into the building. Families are also asked to notify the school nurse/main office if they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19

• Families will be responsible for monitoring their child's health prior to sending them to school; any student/staff member who has a fever or other COVID-19 related symptoms will be isolated, and asked to see the school nurse who, along with the pandemic response team, will make appropriate decisions regarding quarantine or isolation requirements and the student or staff member ​may be​ required to be absent from school (self-quarantine) for at least 14 calendar days or until one can produce a negative COVID-19 test

• Individuals within close contact to another person in their classroom or office who show COVID-19 related symptoms may also need to follow the aforementioned steps and anyone who had contact with a person with a positive COVID-19 test, whether at school or at another location, will need to follow the NJDOH guidelines for self-quarantine requirements

• Contact tracing will be initiated by NJDOH and parents/guardians will be notified. Additionally, any student who is required to self-quarantine (and subsequently be absent from school) will continue remote learning from home

To provide the greatest degree of social/physical distancing and safety protocols, teachers will adhere to the following classroom guidelines: 

• To the greatest degree possible, students' desks will be separated and social distancing will be maintained in the classroom; signage will be placed throughout the school to remind students of personal hygiene and social/physical distancing from others and will be used to create one-way directional walk patterns in some areas of buildings

• Flexible seating arrangements such as groups, clusters and pods will be eliminated as much as possible

• Limit sharing of supplies, books, toys; any sharing requires disinfecting prior to passing from one student to another

• Hand sanitizer will be available in each classroom

• Use of disposable bathroom/hall passes will be required

• In elementary schools only, significant efforts will be made to keep students grouped by class and not mix or commingle students from different classes; in middle and high school, classes will switch one class at a time, limiting the traffic in the hallways and maintaining social distancing

• Individual locker usage will be eliminated reducing the time in the hallways

• Staff will be encouraged to conduct classes outside if weather and condition permits

•  Breakfast/lunch will be offered as grab-and-go, pre-wrapped meals to eat in the classroom/outdoors when possible; exceptions will be made where necessary/possible for younger students, students with special needs, and where classroom design may hinder. Any cafeteria use will occur with social distancing and additional disinfecting protocols

• Students will be provided the opportunity to wash/and or use hand sanitizer before lunch and surfaces will be cleaned and sanitized between lunch periods with alternate facilities, i.e. gyms, multipurpose rooms, used for lunch purpose

In terms of cleaning and sanitizing, TEECS, in its letter to parents, stated that additional custodial staff will be hired and proper equipment has been purchased to make sure the building is cleaned every night with UV sprayers and disinfectants, HVAC systems will replaced with enhanced air filters to improve the air quality; restrooms, water fountains and high traffic areas will be monitored and cleaned more frequently with extra efforts made to further disinfect high-touch areas; and classrooms, hallways, and common areas will be disinfected each night, every Wednesday and weekends. 

For the 2020-2021 school year, student field trips and student assemblies and large group events/meetings will be significantly limited and after school clubs will be determined depending on staff availability and/or feasibility of operating safely. Additionally, to protect students and staff, TEECS will limit non-essential school visitors and volunteers. Only invited visitors/volunteers or those with a documented need to visit will be considered essential and allowed beyond the front office and any interaction made with the Main Office must be scheduled in advance. 

"As you are already aware, TEECS is looking forward to safely welcoming students to face-to-face instruction with limited capacity on ​September 1, 2020.​ During this unprecedented time, we are aware that the 2020-21 school year will look different than it has in the previous years," states the document.  "Any return to in-person learning requires collective responsibility for all TEECS families. Failure to do such significantly compromises the health and safety of all students and staff."

To view the health and safety protocols in their entirety, visit https://bit.ly/31q97jf. For more information on the Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School, visit https://www.teecs.org.

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