MILLBURN, NJ — On Monday night, the Millburn Board of Education announced that Millburn Schools will be fully virtual from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15.

Superintendent Dr. Christine Burton opened her report by updating the community on the current COVID situation in schools. Since Thursday, she said, “six out of the eight schools have been impacted with positive or presumed positive cases.” In context, these seven positive cases required over 100 staff members and students to quarantine.

The district will continue monitor cases. In accordance with transmission rate data and potential holiday travel, Millburn schools will be fully virtual for the first two weeks after the winter break. On Jan. 19, schools will reopen under the current hybrid model, provided that it is safe to do so at that time.

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Dr. Burton explained that “this approach will allow families to gather over the holidays in accordance with the governor’s executive orders to still be able to quarantine for 14 days in preparation for school to resume in-person on that Tuesday Jan. 19 return.”

Dr. Burton also cited guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health, which states that COVID activity in the region is “high overall” with a case rate that is “very high.” Cases in the community, Dr. Burton added, “have also shown an upward trend over the past few weeks.”

This combination of holiday gathering risks and rising cases in the midst of cold and flu season ultimately led to the updated January schedule now in place.

Several board members expressed their personal desire for schools to remain open in January with the hybrid model, however they implored the community to understand the closure’s necessity to maintain the health of both staff and students.

Board member John Green said he understood the sentiment that the January schedule is “just rewarding people who are traveling and then punishing those that aren’t.” Although, Green also reminded the community that “even for those who play by every rule, there’s still a significant risk right now, which is why we’re seeing the guidelines tightened up.”

Board member Caroline Updyke cited her own deep concerns about the harmful effects virtual learning can have on student mental health. But she also acknowledged the recent upward trend in virus cases. Ultimately, she said, “the best way I think we can keep schools open in the long term is if we take these pauses when things start going in this direction.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, members of the community voiced their opinions regarding the January closure.

Some parents expressed dissatisfaction. Ryan S said he was frustrated that Millburn has “underperformed our neighboring towns in regard to in-person schooling since September. Our kids have absolutely missed the opportunity that was September and October when cases were low. If Millburn schools are to be considered leaders in education relative to these neighboring towns, when can we expect to move to 2 cohorts to get these kids in school?”

Some parents expressed satisfaction. Jennifer Woodhouse said, “we are very, very happy with the remote learning… My kid is so ridiculously happy and so calm. He’s got a really big workload this year with the AP and accelerated classes. Not to have to go into school is just one less thing for him to have to do.”

The January schedule is currently in place, although that closure can certainly extend further into 2021. Throughout the meeting, Dr. Burton and board members stressed the need for families to continue being vigilant with following health and safety guidelines released by the government.

As Dr. Burton said, whether schools can reopen is “dependent on the choices we make as a community when we are away from school.” She suggested socializing outside wearing masks and practicing social distancing of six feet apart. This is especially important for the community to consider as it heads into the holiday season.