BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - At the Board of Education meeting on March 12, Berkeley Heights Public School District announced it will begin remote learning on March 17 until March 27, in light of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. Remote learning requires students to engage in learning from home by using a mobile device or home computer. Teachers will post lesson plans, as well as conduct video calls with their classes. 

The remote learning plan has been implemented in districts throughout the county, including neighboring towns Summit and New Providence. All schools made the decision with guidance from the Union County Department of Health. 

Student speculation that the health department had to make the final call on school closures was confirmed as untrue by health department representative Anne McNair. McNair, who was in attendance at the Board of Education meeting, said that although the Berkeley Heights Board of Education had previously stated that they required written approval from the Health Department to close schools, this rule is no longer being enforced and the Board of Education has the authority to decide closures. 

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How classes will run, via the iPads, has also been a topic of discussion among the student body. Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley, and Assistant Superintendent Scott McKinney, with the help of the district administrative team, have created a reliable plan to ease the worries of the students. The rotating drop schedule will continue through the closure, however, school days will be following half day schedule. 

The first half will include classes with full lesson plans or assignment taught or given through remote teacher contact. Many teachers will be using group conferencing applications, such as Zoom. Teachers have autonomy to choose the applications and programs that work the best for their classes. 

As with usual daily instruction, students are required to start each day by accessing Google Classroom to get and complete assignments. Students will also be required to complete attendance records to ensure that the district is in compliance with the 180-day school day requirement, as per the New Jersey Department of Education.  

The second half of the day will allow students and parents to communicate with teachers and for students to work on individual assignments. Additionally individual music lessons will be given remotely during this time. The afternoon will also give teachers time to collaborate with co-workers, modify lessons for remote learning and ensure the needs of all students are being met.

McKinney stresses that the quality of work will remain as rigorous as it is in school, although the classroom setting will be missed. McKinney said, “There will be direct access to students through teachers, particularly during the half day schedule. It will be interactive and as immediate as it can be. After the school hours of the half day there will be a 24-hour turnaround time with immediate feedback and interaction.”

There has been a sense of nervousness throughout the school due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Junior Justin Schabel said, “My friends and I have been kind of nervous all week about what’s going to happen with school and the virus and what comes next.” 

The anxieties felt throughout the student body this past week will hopefully be put to ease with implementation of the remote learning plan and the support from teachers and administrators. 

Despite moving into uncharted territory through the next two weeks, students and staff can still find support within the educational community.