NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Megan Avallone, Director at Westfield Regional Health Department, attended the Thursday, Oct. 22 Board of Education (BOE) meeting via zoom to give an update on Covid-19 cases at schools. The board members then pondered the potential extension of the school day from 4.5 hours to 7 hours.
Avallano explained that the cases of Covid-19 are up nationwide as well as in the state. The positive cases are increasing among teenagers in the state, but generally this age group “is not getting very sick,” she said. She pointed out that there has been no significant increase in Covid-19 cases at schools under the regional health department. She commended New Providence school staff and administration for measures taken to prevent transmission of the virus at schools. She reminded parents to carry out protective measures outside the schools, such as wearing a mask and keeping a minimum of six feet distance from others.
Board Member Adam Smith asked whether there are additional risks for extending the school day from 4.5 hours to a regular day of 7 hours. Avallone noted that the extended school day does not pose an additional risk, but serving lunch during the school is “problematic”. It creates a logistical challenge to have students be seated and eating six feet apart from each other. Eating together, talking and laughing within close proximity are all risk factors, she said.
Smith noted that restaurants are allowed to use 25 percent of their indoor capacity for dining. He wondered if there are creative ways to organize lunch for students at school so that students can stay at school all day within the A/B schedule.
Vice-President of the Board Robert Dinerman asked Avallone if student mental health issues have been addressed. She responded that at the moment the health department is “not keeping track of mental health issues.” She noted that New Providence has an assigned social worker to assist student with such issues.
Superintendent David Miceli noted that because the district has followed safety guidelines the schools have been able to remain open despite a couple of virus cases. He pointed out that the district must also consider the safety of the teachers, who might become more seriously ill if they contract the virus. He encouraged everyone to work together during these challenging times.
Several parents of students with individualized educational plans (IEPs) urged the district to allow those students to remain at school for a full day. These children are amongst the hardest hit students in this new educational environment, said Courtney Mallon. Another parent Christine Vivino agreed noting that it is difficult for IEP-students to get “consistency” with only 2-3 days a week in-person learning. She called for creative thinking so as to get children back into a regular full day schedule.
Board President Bernadette Cuccaro noted that classroom size is the limiting factor while social distancing guidelines are in place.