HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa Antunes Friday morning notified students, teachers, staff and parents that school buildings will be closed effective Monday, Nov. 23 in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases, noting that there is no evidence of school-based transmission of the virus.
The closure means that all students and teachers will transition to an all-virtual learning platform online through Dec. 4, at which time the situation will be reevaluated, accordng to Antune's letter. Teachers may choose to work from their classrooms, and all other access to the buildings will be limited and by appointment.
Beginning Oct. 8 and as of Thursday, Nov. 19 there were 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school system: 16 at Hillsborough High School; 3 at Hillsborough Middle School; 5 at Auten Road School; 2 at Amsterdam Elementary; 1 at Hillsborough Elementary; 2 at Sunnymeade; 1 at Woodlawn and 1 at Woods Road. No cases have been reported at Triangle Elementary.
The Somerset County Department of Health on Thursday reported an increase of 142 positive tests for the COVID-19 virus overnight, bringing the total number of cases to 7,592 with 530 COVID-10 deaths reported since March 8.
The New Jersey Department of Health on Thursday reported a total of 293,744 positive cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began its spread in the state 258 days ago, an increase of 4,182 overnight. There was an increase of 34 deaths overnight, bringing the state total to 14.871. There have been 5,466,148 COVID-19 tests administered in New Jersey.
Hillsborough has had a total of 672 COVID-19 cases since March, with a total of 81 COVID-19 related deaths.
Locally, Manville schools are closed; Bridgewater/Raritan has closed its schools twice for weeks at a time. Schools in South Bound Brook and Bound Brook will have extended closures during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
Somerville instituted an all-virtual teaching scenario effective Tuesday, Nov. 17, which will continue through the Thanksgiving holiday, resuming a hybrid schedule Nov. 30, according to an announcement on the school district's website. The closure comes after members of the Pioneers football team and field hockey team tested positive for COVID-19.
Montgomery Township announced Wednesday it would return to an all-virtual teaching platform on Nov. 23 with 33 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the schools since Nov. 13. A return to a hybrid, virtual-in person model is expected to resume Jan.19, 2021.
Following is the letter from Dr. Antunes:
November 20, 2020
Good Morning Staff and HTPS Community,
It is with mixed feelings that I write this communication. The last several days have been fraught with change and uncertainty as the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise across New Jersey.
In all of my communications to you throughout this pandemic, I have said that each decision we make has been based on the relevant data within our school district and our region. While we have no evidence of school-based transmission (thanks to the vigilance of our school community), the new regional data is not good.
Yesterday (Thursday, November 19), the NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) released the weekly COVID-19 Activity Level Report. The report separates the state into different regions and provides a COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI) for each region. Unfortunately, due to the very high case rate in the Central West region of the state, which includes Hillsborough, our region is now considered to be an area of HIGH activity.
The NJDOH suggests that districts should consider implementing fully remote learning if a region is an area of high activity. A high activity level requires an elevated level of vigilance with regard to who can attend or work in our schools in terms of potential exposure to those infected with the virus. Furthermore, given the high rate of transmission in the community, it is more likely that we would see an increased number of cases in schools if we do not implement remote learning, overloading both our contact tracers and the Township Department of Health.
With this in mind and in consultation with the district’s school physician and the Hillsborough Township Health Department, we have made the decision that starting on Monday, November 23, 2020, the district will initiate our full-day virtual model of instruction for all students (as described beginning on page 70 of Hillsborough’s Road Back Plan).
At this time, we anticipate remaining closed through at least December 4, 2020. We will reevaluate that date based on the COVID-19 Activity Level Report that will be released on Thursday, December 3, as well as other data available in our community at that time.
For your planning purposes, given the current situation and indicators available (current rate of community spread, upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, etc.), it is unlikely that we will be moved back from high activity to moderate activity by December 4.
During this time of virtual instruction, the school buildings will be open, however certificated staff may work from home if they choose to do so. Community entry into schools will be limited; community members must call ahead to make appointments to gain entry to schools.
Moreover, all athletics and in-person extracurricular activities are suspended as of Monday, November 23. Athletic events will subsequently follow NJSIAA guidelines. Finally, all external use of facilities applications will be suspended pending further guidance. More information will be forthcoming from your building principals regarding daily schedules, including vo-tech, as well as food distribution.
Please note that new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people with whom you live. I implore you to consider this guidance when planning your holiday.
In addition, if your family plans include travelling to anywhere on the New Jersey Department of Health advisory list, students and staff members must quarantine for 14 days upon return to New Jersey. It is very important that everyone in our community heed the new guidance in order to keep our staff and students safe. Please note that a negative COVID-19 test will not eliminate the need for quarantine. If a student has to quarantine, s/he/they may log in remotely to his/her/their classroom.
Along with the Thanksgiving guidelines, we also encourage our school community to continue following the CDC’s other safeguards, such as:
Stay home when you are sick;
Wash hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds;
Cover coughs and sneezes and properly dispose of tissues;
Limit close contact with people who are sick and do not share food, drinks and utensils;
Practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart);
Wear a face covering in public settings; and
Continue to monitor your health for symptoms.
A special shout out to our school nurses and Siobhan Spano and her staff at the Department of Health who have been completing contact tracing and responding to inquiries from staff and the community.
Please know that this decision was made after very careful consideration and consultation. I am well aware that this decision will not be a welcome one for all.
Moreover, we understand that virtual learning is not ideal in many ways. However, we must make decisions based on what is best for our overall community. We appreciate your support and cooperation. Please remain vigilant but sensible in your approach to dealing with this health concern. Should you have any questions about this situation, please feel free to contact the building principal or school nurse.
Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!
Lisa M. Antunes, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools