Teachers who wish to request leave or an accommodation due to medical or child care issues are able to contact Human Resources. A comprehensive protocol is in place for high risk staff members.
MIDDLETOWN, NJ _ The Middletown Board of Education focused their agenda on one of the biggest initiatives in their history on July 29th, the Restart and Recovery of in person learning for the fall. The meeting was Chaired by Board President Pamela Rogers. The meeting lasted five hours and was punctuated by a wide variety of public comment. Middletown Schools plan to have a reduced daily occupancy with in-school classes only twice a week. The exception is special education programming will be five days a week. Parents can elect full remote. Groups will be based on last names (A-K, L-Z, etc). Group A goes to school Monday and Tuesday, and Group B goes to school on Thursday and Friday. Teachers are encouraged to use outside spaces-weather permitting and will be providing live virtual instruction daily. Transportation will be offered and masks are mandatory in most areas.
Prior to the main presentation, the board quickly moved through the Committee Reports for the agenda:
- Technology - Hybrid instruction tech preparation is underway and new chromebooks are being prepared for distribution
- Student Services - Home instruction, out of district placement, tuition contract and contracted services were discussed
- Facilities and Finance - In this Committee, Business Administrator Amy Doherty reviewed the process of negotiation and saving of transportation costs due to the pandemic. Busses sat idle when schools were forced to go remote and after the process by which the schools negotiate, they reported a savings of over $450,000.
- Policies - Several policies were recommended - most in regard to operation of schools during the pandemic. Also - a change to the attendance policy that prompts the board to review the issue of attendance
- Curriculum and Instruction - Kim Pickus reviewed the ongoing work of the committee. Curriculum met with Student Services as a joint meeting on July 15th. They talked about reopening. "A lot of what was discussed you see in the plan that we will be discussing momentarily". said Pickus. She emphasized that the joint meeting discussed equity diversity and inclusion as well. They are planning on updates for more diverse literature, implementation of high school courses on Holocaust and various training on diversity for employees. Board member Joan Minnuies was upset that she wasn't invited as she said she is on one of the committees. "I am on the committee and I wasn't even notified." said Minnuies. A fellow board member disagreed and said that they work through the board chairs.
The Restart and Recovery Plan then took center stage: You can view the entire video of the meeting on YouTube below:
Right up front, employees who didn't want to return to work for medical reasons, as an example, were able to contact Human Resources to ask for leave or accommodation. This helps the district hire new people to take over the role of those who are not planning to teach next month. High risk student protocols call for parents to communicate with the schools for accommodation needs that they may have for their children. Children will be required to wear face coverings. Signage will be placed throughout the buildings. Chairs will generally be six feet apart and sanitizing materials will be available throughout the buildings as well.
In regard to transportation, the six feet distancing will not be possible. Parents will be able to pick up and drop off themselves. Since it is in cohorts, the issue should be manageable. Face coverings are required on the bus unless there is a proper medical release with documentation, NJDOE ordered that windows are open on the bus where possible. Busses will be loaded from back to front as they complete their routes in the morning so students don't need to pass by each other so much. Drivers are not going to be screeners. If something is out of the ordinary, they should respond accordingly.
Contractors for bussing companies will be responsible for cleaning the busses and touch points in particular. Middletown custodial staff will be helping between routes when the busses are at the schools.
Daily screenings will be required prior to daily instruction and this will include a temperature check. Entrances and exits will be monitored. Lockers and locker rooms will not be in use. Staff will be encouraged to minimize the amount of materials that the students will be required to transfer.
Visits will be minimized and Google Meets will be maximized to reduce the number of visitors as much as possible. This will include meetings such as IEP.
Visitors who need to come in will be appointment only. When they enter they will be screened. Each school will determine specific procedures including a stay in car procedure so you come in when the meeting is ready to begin,
Masks will be required when walking in hallways. Inner doors for such things as bathroom doors will be kept open wherever possible to improve air circulation. Limits on the amount of students in bathrooms will also be key. Designated entry and exit doors will be identified, likely based on grade level. Parents dropping off or picking up children will need to wear masks. There will not be holding rooms for children as has been in practice in the past.
Main offices and nurses offices will be equipped with clear desk shields and six foot distancing where possible. Many meetings will be held virtually. Faculty rooms may have limited areas where staff can eat and access refrigerators, etc.
There will be sanitizing stations throughout the schools. There will be socially distant sign in and sign out procedures for staff. Each school will have a designated isolation space if anyone has any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. Once a student or staff member who has symptoms will need to wear a mask while they are waiting to be picked up. They will be sent home immediately and require a pickup within 30 minutes.
Remote virtual instruction is always available to any student who are quarantined. Students and staff who wish to return after showing symptoms of COVID-19 must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, present a medical note with an alternate diagnoses and be fever free for 24 hours.
Enhanced cleaning is also in place. An increased use and frequency of disinfectants will be in place. Drinking fountains will be off but bottle filling stations will be open. They are adding to the facilities department an environmental work that focuses on cleaning and disinfecting efforts in the district. "The main theme here is just to increase the frequency of following up on all of our common areas and touch points." said Business Administrator Amy Doherty.
For ventilation, the focus will not be on energy efficiency. "In this case we are looking to override some of those controls" said Doherty. They will keep fans moving longer and harder to keep the air flow optimized. This may include overnight. They have done much work over the years including during a referendum. They recently completed and ESIP (Energy Saving Improvement Plan). Rooftop units have been replaced which provides greater reliability.
Initially, no meals - grab and go for breakfast for students to bring home. Lunch will be available to bring home. Exceptions will exist for students who are there for a full day. Each schools Pandemic Response Team carries out these items in their own buildings. A procedure is being reviewed to distribute meals to all virtual students.
Playground equipment will be closed for the time being. Recess will be included in Middletown however, so students get a break and can utilize the school grounds. Field trips, Assemblies and other such activities will be postponed for now.
Staff being absent is a huge issue for schools. In Middletown, the use of substitutes is expected. A plan is being established for staff illness and absence - contracted substitutes will report to the schools regardless of whether a teacher is absent or not. Basically, there will be teachers available at the ready if full time teachers are out.
Sport will also have a plan. A daily screening checklist and temperature check will be in place. Each phase gradually increases the groups and activities. August 29th - September 13th starts the virtual time for athletes. There will be no in person practices. Fall season will start September 14 with traditional practices and games start October 1. All of this is clearly subject to change.
There will be an attendance policy. It is both virtual and in person,
The Restore and Restart Program started with 104 pages and a five-hour meeting. This massive undertaking underscores the drive that Middletown residents have, through their elected leaders and staff, to open as safely and securely as possible to obtain an in person education with a pandemic that may be fortunately waning but does not appear to be leaving entirely for some time to come.