HACKENSACK, N.J. — As the district readies to begin phasing students and staff back into city schools for its big return on Monday, November 2 for hybrid learning (a rotation of in-person and virtual learning), students are just as pumped.
“I’m so ready to go back,” said Gigi Oates, a sixth-grader at Hackensack Middle School. “I want to learn in a school environment. I miss my friends, and I want to be around my teachers. I wear my mask whenever I leave my house, so I’m ready.”
While students may have enjoyed not having to go to school to some degree, students agree they miss interacting with their educators.
“I want to go back to school because I want to see my teacher,” said Gigi's sister Nina, a fourth-grader at Fairmount Elementary.
After the lockdown imposed by Governor Murphy in March following the World Health Organization's declaration of the coronavirus a pandemic, it’s been eight months since the student body set foot in a classroom and heard the faint banter from their classmates, the shrill of school bells and gym whistles, the closing of locker doors as students mingled in hallways and smelled hot lunch emanating from the cafeteria. But in two weeks, those memories will inch their way back to a reality.
The November 2 opening the day before Election Day comes after a two-month stall following a significant number of requests for accommodations for health-related risks given the current coronavirus pandemic that were filed by a number of teachers this past August. Instead of its planned hybrid learning plan in September, the school district started the 2020-21 school year with sole remote learning “out of an abundance of caution,” Schools Superintendent Robert Sanchez said.
Depending on the circumstances of the Covid-19 situation, especially going into flu season, Hackensack schools will reopen next month with a cohort rotation of an “A/B schedule” to allow for half of the student body to occupy the building at once for in-person learning while the other half works from home each day of the week. Per the New Jersey Department of Education’s The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan, “A” Days are designated as Mondays and Thursdays, while “B” Days will be Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will act as the wild card as they can operate as either day as laid out in the latest school calendar which covers November through June accessible here.
Each cohort contains between 8 and 10 days students are assigned to be in their respective school each month on half days from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Breakfast will be served in the classrooms and grab-and-go lunches upon dismissal. Only 10 students will be allowed in each classroom at a time and spaced six feet apart from their peers per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Before entering the building on their scheduled days, students and staff will be screened for symptoms of Covid-19. Parents are also asked to check their children for signs of illness before sending them off to school. To reinforce social distancing, students will observe tape marked on the school floors to remind them to stay six feet apart.
Face coverings will be donned by students and teachers and hand-sanitizing stations containing hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol are installed in each classroom, at entrances and exits of buildings, outside lunchrooms and bathrooms. The Hackensack school district is currently contracted with two companies that will oversee proper controls for the air environment and ventilation inspection. To further ensure the safety of all students and staff, water fountains will be closed off for use, and desks in the main office will be partitioned off with plexiglass for added protection from outside germs.
Janitorial staff will disinfect frequently touched surfaces including wiping down doorknobs, light switches, railings, lab equipment, computer monitors and keyboards, sinks, bathrooms, lockers, and elevators multiple times a day. Students will be asked to observe proper hand washing practices by lathering up with antibacterial soap for 20 seconds before washing prior to eating and after coughing into them.
While field trips are currently suspended, virtual ones will continue to "enrich" students' educational experience. Extra-curricular activities will resume provided the observance of social distancing and hygiene protocols.
While it is unclear when full-day, in-person instruction will resume, when it does, school officials say breakfast will continue to be pre-packaged and served in the classroom while lunches will be eaten in the classroom, cafeteria, gymnasium and outdoors as dictated by administration in keeping with social distancing practices.