HOLMDEL, NJ - The Holmdel Board of Education worked through a lengthy meeting to discuss the reopening plan for September. During the August 12 meeting, the Acting Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Lee Seitz, provided a page by page review of the ongoing program. You can listen to the full audio of the meeting HERE. For a copy of the agenda click HERE.
Holmdel joins the majority of school districts in Monmouth County that are opening to students based on recommendations from Governor Murphy. Murphy has stated that opening schools to in person learning is important for children and families.
Unfortunately, many communities are leaving the children out of the classroom. The New Jersey Education Association has also tried to keep schools shut. Schools that are following the NJEA mantra are mainly urban districts that receive financial aid from the state. They include Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth (where 375 teachers refused to work).
Holmdel planned ahead during the pandemic, which started in March of 2020.
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, each school is required to send in a plan to the county and state for review. Most are a form of hybrid schedule and Holmdel is no exception.
The current plan includes school every day for about four hours on what they call a Blue and Silver schedule. Also known as an A,B schedule, the district will have school in person every day and alternating. As an example, the first week will be A-B-A-B-A. The second week will be B-A-B-A-B. An early concept was to have Wednesday as a virtual day and a so called ‘deep cleaning’ day. However, the Superintendent stated that the disinfecting of all the buildings will be a daily continuous process. Thus, a virtual Wednesday was not required. The schedule is not finalized and is still under refinement based on inputs from parents, teachers and administrative staff.
During the public portion, questions were asked about temperature controls, meals and other day-to-day operations. The temperature controls, according to the Superintendent Dr. Seitz will be an automated system upon entry. This would allow faster entry for staff and children to the buildings and prepare for class.
One resident, Mr. Meyer asked about textbooks. “Will they need to take textbooks home with them?” We are anticipating the same kind of set up as last year” said Seitz.
Another question was, “If a student goes down the fully virtual route, will the teachers be able to see the students that are at home?”
"Very good question and the short answer is 'yes' through Google Classroom” said Seitz. He clarified that the camera will be the one that is on the chromebook or a supplemental camera that is on the chromebook which limits the ability to go around the room.
A question arose about how a virtual child would be rostered. “We are still in the process of developing” the plan, said Seitz. The speculation is that they will be assigned to one of two groups, blue or silver, but they will be in a virtual environment every day of the week. Every day half the class is virtual.
Marianne Davis called in to “Thank everyone for their tremendous effort. Going back to new rostering, is there going to be any input from the students? They've been isolated for so long…can they possibly keep friend groups together?”
Seitz replied that “they will talk about the criteria that they use. We have not looked at friendships (related to rostering)” but based on the inputs he said they will look at that due to the circumstances.
Another question regarded when someone gets ill, if a teacher got Covid-19 would their class need to quarantine. The answer was ‘yes’.
“It is possible that the CDC will tell us…that we may have to quarantine the students that a teacher saw the day before as well as the current day.” The CDC guidance changes on a regular basis.
Colleen Quinn commented, "Thank you all so much for your efforts” She then stated that the teachers must be included in the discussions. She asked the board to think outside the box. “I am no doctor but indoors is hands down the highest risk” she felt that starting at four hours was a good way to go to get started. She suggested also that groups that are already friends should be "grouped together if that is possible.” She also asked about the challenge of children being sent to school unwell. Dr. Seitz reviewed the various methods that will be in place to ensure compliance including temperature checks and observation. The teachers according to Seitz are included in the discussions.
Masks are another topic that was discussed. While masks were originally optional, they have been made mandatory by Governor Murphy.
Another parent shared her opinion on virtual learning for a second-grader and one starting Kindergarten. She's a working single mother and nurse and has several jobs to give her kids the best school system she can. She found it really difficult to teach them when virtual. “It would have been helpful if someone reached out” to see what the reality is for home-schooling. “You are bound to the computer, you are sitting with them the entire time and you can't really grasp how that is.”
The comments showed that going back to school was the best course of action from every aspect as long as the safety protocols were in place. The district invested over a million dollars in the last few months to ensure that safety was a priority including HVAC work, social distancing protocols and materials and personal protective equipment to ensure the safest environment possible.
One parent stated that "For little kids, they are now just building their foundation, socially and emotionally, technology and sitting behind a computer…there is a gap. One thing I would have liked is maybe a phone call from a teacher. There is definitely a lack of personalization. Something to really grasp how a child is learning and adapting to the situation.”
Siblings will be going to school on the same day, it was reported.
Guidance counselors questions were asked as well – "Will they be there during the school day in all the schools" – "yes" was the answer.
More to come as the schools look to welcome the students and teachers back to in-school instruction!