For Middletown Township Public Schools Virtual Home Instruction Plan (Revised May 13, 2020), click HERE. 

MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Middletown Township’s Board of Education tried to address, among other things, how it hopes to reduce COVID-19 risks in school buildings for the sake of student safety and take into account parental concerns about how schools would be able to protect students from COVID-19, at its May 13th meeting.

This meeting was held virtually through the “Zoom” videoconferencing program, as the Board can no longer meet in person due to the statewide stay at home order issued back in March in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19.   During the meeting, two of the Board members, Joan Minnues and Leonora Caminiti, experienced technical difficulties when trying to join the virtual meeting through Zoom, and as a result, were unable to participate in it.

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COVID-19 is a viral respiratory that since first appearing in China at the end of last year has affected at least several million people around the world; including well over 1 million in the U.S., with about 140,000 of them New Jersey - according to John Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard.  It has also killed more than 300,000 people around the world, including more than 88,000 in the U.S., and about 10,000 in New Jersey, according to the dashboard.

The Board of Ed’s May 13th meeting opened with a public comment period in which several parents raised concerns about COVID-19 related student safety.   One of these parents was Michele Pitzer, who said she was strongly against the idea of merging Port Monmouth Elementary School with New Monmouth Elementary School (which the Board gave final approval of on March 11th), especially now because the merger seems to be at odds with the idea that people need to be spread out rather than packed together in order to help combat COVID-19.

“To take our children from a safe space and shove them into New Monmouth School is not advisable,” Pitzer said. “We need more space, not less.” 

She also asked about how the district planned to addressed parental concerns about student safety as it relates to COVID-19 once schools are allowed to reopen (all schools have been ordered closed since March as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, and will now be closed for the remainder of the academic year). 

“What alternatives will be offered for parents who do not feel safe sending their children back to school, in September?,” she said.  “Will virtual instruction be available in that situation, especially for children who have autoimmune issues?”

Following this, a second parent, named Lydia, asked about how the district can successfully ensure that COVID-19 won’t spread in school buildings once schools are allowed to reopen.  The questions asked included whether students would be provided masks, whether these masks could be visor masks (which are essentially face shields) instead of mouth masks, and whether there would be some kind of barrier between rows of desks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students.  

“I’m hoping that that’s in the plan,” she said. 

Kim Pickus, the Assistant Superintendent for HR, Curriculum, and Instruction, said that the district will now be operating on a six-day rotating basis for health & physical education and some elective courses.   For example, on four of the six days, there will be a full-year course of health & physical education, whereas on each of the other two days, there will be a semester-long course in either art, music, computer science & digital design, or Spanish. 

“Those four courses will now be half-year semester courses part of the six day schedule,” Pickus said.

Mary Ellen Walker, the District’s Assistant Superintendent for Student Activities and Services, then mentioned that the school district’s strategic planning process will be going forward, with six categories of objectives/goals being drawn up, each represented by a committee. The committees will prepare an initial draft by May 22nd that will be available for public comment via email for two weeks, and then there will be a Board of Ed vote on the final draft during the its June 24th meeting. 

Board of Ed President Pamela Rogers then read allowed a letter the Board wrote to the state of New Jersey asking for guidance and support on re-opening schools safely. 

“We must get it right,” Rogers said. “The go forward model must be well-thought out. To that end, we are looking forward to your office, the NJ State Board of Education, the NJ Dept. of Education, and our elected officials in Trenton, to show strong leadership on this matter. We ask that you avail yourselves on the best science and information.”

Then came the second public commenting period, in which a parent named Kristen Drennan expressed concern that her child’s teachers were not providing as high a quality of virtual educational instruction as some of her friends were getting at other schools, or from other teachers. 

Superintendent William O. George said that there was a district-wide plan on how teachers should go about providing virtual instruction, and that any concerns should be brought first with the teacher, and then to the building-level administrators.   He also said that virtual instruction has been hard to get used to for certain teachers, especially given it was rolled out suddenly because of COVID-19. For Middletown Township Public Schools Virtual Home Instruction Plan (Revised May 13, 2020), click HERE. 

“Obviously, the transition to virtual learning was as abrupt as it was.” George said.

Erin Winters, a parent, said that with all of what is happening with COVID-19 and the district’s strategic planning process, merging the two elementary schools would be overwhelming to implement at this time for the Middletown school district’s community members. 

“I don’t feel that this is the time to be making so many serious transitions all at once,” Winters said.

Lastly, Superintendent George reflected on his time as an education professional and mentioned that he would be retiring effective Sept. 1st.

“I’m so proud end my 33 year public education career here in Middletown,” he said. “I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be.”