PLAINFIELD, NJ — A great amount of time was spent on the topic of getting Plainfield students back into classrooms at the Feb. 16 Board of Education meeting. After attendance campaign and cleaning procedure videos were shown, a presentation on student scores compared to those in other Union County schools was given, and an extended public comment session, a suggestion was made by a board member to schedule a separate meeting with health officials to specifically address questions and concerns about returning to in-school learning.
Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell said remote learning is not a substitute for in-school instruction, and "without access to the support systems schools provide, disparities among students who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native and living in poverty will continue to widen."
Her data also showed Union County school districts — like New Providence, Summit and Westfield — in hybrid learning with higher ELA and Math scores compared to those in schools like Plainfield with virtual learning models. "These are Black and Brown districts," Dr. Mitchell said.
"I predict, as a result of this learning loss year, we're going to take four to five years to recover from this," she stated.
Schools will open, according to the superintendent, weekdays for teachers and staff starting on Monday, March 15. Plainfield Public Schools plan to open for students on Monday, April 12, for hybrid half days.
Dr. Mitchell said the Feb. 12 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report was reviewed in preparation for the return, and noted, "in some matters, there are gray areas. I believe it was written that way, so local schools can make their own decisions."
She said the message about returning to in-person instruction will be distributed through the district's website, its social media channels and phone app, through city officials, charter schools, and Police Director Lisa Burgess, who is responsible for getting crossing guards back to work.
After a video presentation, Sean Sutton, Facilities and Grounds Coordinator, was on hand to answer questions about cleaning procedures that are taking place prior to students and staff returning, and what is expected once they are back in buildings. He discussed building ventilation systems, preventative maintenance, and investments in training.
In November, Sutton provided an overview to the board and the public on how he and his team have been working diligently to keep buildings clean, and staff and students healthy.
Interim School Business Administrator Gary Ottmann said the district has done enhanced cleaning at schools where windows don't open — Washington, Emerson, Clinton and Jefferson elementary schools, and P.A.A.A.S., or the Plainfield Academy for the Arts & Advanced Studies.
Ottmann also noted Plainfield has received over $3 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds for things like PPE (personal protective equipment), ventilation, and student technology; he said almost all the money has been spent.
Watch the district's video on cleaning routines and protocols.
During public comment, many people spoke on and asked questions about teachers, staff and students returning to school buildings. One person asked about solutions to overcrowded classrooms; it was noted that, to date, only one third of parents want their children to return in person.
The volume of people who wanted to speak spurred Board Member Richard Wyatt to suggest the district arrange a separate meeting to address parents' concerns. He suggested that health officials be present at the special meeting to answer questions. (He also proposed a video with vaccination information be created and distributed.)
As a result, K-12 Student Needs during COVID-19, a virtual town hall has been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Panelists include:
- Plainfield Health Officer Dr. Atif Nazir
- Plainfield Public Schools Nurse Myrna Dyson (See her January presentation at a board meeting: COVID-19 Update for the Plainfield Public School District)
- Evergreen Elementary Nurse Ester DaSilva
- Plainfield Family Success Center Coordinator Stacy Greene
- Representatives from the Plainfield Neighborhood Health Center
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