PISCATAWAY, NJ – Virtual-only instructional plans will start the new school year for Piscataway students under changes to Governor Phil Murphy’s mandates intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Parents in the Piscataway School District called on officials to reconsider reopening plans that were announced earlier in August expressing their fears on the safety of sending their children back to school this fall as part of a hybrid in-person/online instructional format, suggesting the timing was too soon.

Superintendent Dr. Frank Ranelli told board members on Thursday that his team would be revamping plans yet again in order to start the year in an online-only format after Murphy announced on Thursday that school districts that cannot meet all health and safety standards for safe in-person instruction will be able to begin their school year with all-remote learning. 

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Related Article: Murphy: New Jersey Schools Can Reopen for In-Person Learning in the Fall

“We are putting together the plans for virtual instruction and will release them as soon as we get them,” said Ranelli during the Board of Education meeting that was held via Zoom video conferencing.

“The Road Back” plan originally called for reopening schools in September with parents choosing from hybrid in-person/online instruction, or online-only coursework for their students. In it, parents were asked to choose between the two types of instructional plans for their children, with the district investing in iPads and other equipment for every student.

But now, with an uncertain timeline for when buildings can reopen, the only option is all-online instruction for Piscataway schools, said Ranelli about the state ordered response to the pandemic for education that is constantly changing.

“We’ll have a little more time to address individual departments to make sure everyone has what they need,” he said, including special education. “Our desire is to do the best we can with planning.”

“We will continue to push forward with an all-remote policy,” he continued. “However, let’s say we reopen in January, then we’ll turn to the hybrid model we already established.”

Over 600 parents, students, and teachers logged in to the board meeting, with dozens emailing the board secretary, David Oliviera expressing their concerns and questions on the use of face masks in schools, enforcing social distancing among students and proper sanitization processes and the risks to teachers if they were to return to the buildings. 173 emails were sent ahead of the meeting with similar sentiments, some with questions about their specific circumstances.

“We are following state mandates, and health protocols follow plans established by the CDC,” said Ranelli, including mental health services which remain available for students. “No decisions were made from a lack of care or concern for students or staff.”

Some parents wondered how a mandatory face mask policy could be enforced in the schools. “Students who refuse to wear them will be put on the all-remote plan,” said Ranelli, adding that three days of staff training will take place before the start of the new school year.

In preparation for the eventual return to school, upgrades are being made in district facilities geared towards reducing the spread of coronavirus including improvements to cleaning and sanitation processes.

In one example, board member, Dr. Tom Connors, explained that while the district is faced with $1 million in cuts in state aid, allocations from the Federal Cares Act and other sources will cover the costs to install hand sanitizer stations in high touch areas and new filtration water fountains, and for washable face masks for each student.

Students will also see changes in the curriculum to better meet the current environment and diversity of the district, including full-year instruction on African-American, Holocaust, and LGBTQ studies among other areas. With the new all-virtual format, science students at the high school will receive supply lists so they can participate in virtual labs as part of their remote learning.

And for high school football fans, it may be awhile longer before the almost finished new stadium will hear cheers from Chiefs Nation. The board voted to cancel all fall sports in the Piscataway School District, including the Superchiefs Marching Band, dance team and cheerleading. No word yet on the winter and spring seasons.

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