RANDOLPH, NJ: The following is a Summary from the district (not the official board minutes) of the Board of Education meeting from Tuesday evening with great detail of potential plans for the fall, while awaiting further guidelines from the state:
The Board of Education interviewed three candidates, Clare Fu, Yong Wang, and Cara Zhao to fill the unexpired term of a board member who recently resigned. The Board of Education voted to appoint Cara Zhao. Ms. Zhao will be sworn in August 18, 2020 and serve through the Board’s reorganization meeting in January 2021.
Superintendent Jennifer Fano revisited Governor’s Murphy’s multi- stage approach for restarting the state’s economy. She noted that the state is currently in phase 2 of its reopening plan where additional activities have been permitted that can easily be safeguarded (expanded retail, outdoor dining, etc.). Ms. Fano explained that as part of phase 2, there is potential for some in-person learning with modifications. However, she emphasized that it is stage 3 of the state’s plan which says that schools may operate in-person instruction with reduced capacity. As of Tuesday, July 21st, the district has not been made aware of when the state intends to enter stage 3, but Ms. Fano advised that all school districts were tasked with creating and sharing a specific plan for return to in-person instruction.
Ms. Fano shared an update given by the New Jersey Department of Education on Monday, July 20, 2020. The update said that parents will be able to choose to have their child remain at home and receive virtual instruction rather than return for in-person instruction. It was noted that this update was not aligned with the mandate school districts were tasked with completing by the end of July. “Every school district in New Jersey was asked to create and submit plans for in-person instruction at least four weeks before the start of the school year. We have been
focusing on our re-entry for in-person instruction, while trying to also carve out time to work on enhancing our plans for the continuation of virtual instruction,” Ms. Fano said. “We realize that the status of the coronavirus in our area will play a large part in our ability to re-open our school buildings. The plans we are sharing this evening are meant to serve as a guide for when we will be able to safely offer in-person instruction.”
On June 26, 2020 the New Jersey Department of Education released a 104-page document entitled, The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education. The plan outlines some elements related to re-entry, and Ms. Fano re-stated that the district was tasked with completing and submitting its plan to the New Jersey Department of Education no later than 4 weeks prior to the start of the school year. Ms. Fano advised that staff will return on August 31, 2020 and students will return to school on September 2, 2020. She shared that the New Jersey Department of Education provided flexibility for each school district to develop re-entry plans for in-person instruction. “While there are pros to having a tremendous amount of flexibility, there are also cons,” Ms. Fano said. The superintendent gave a few examples including that staff who have children in other districts may have varying schedules which can make things complicated and stressful.
Ms. Fano shared that the district initially started to plan for a return focused on bringing all students back every day. She advised that the district could not meet the necessary social distancing parameters in any of the district’s buildings to accommodate this plan stating that:
• “Districts should plan for 6 feet of social distancing when feasible and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 3-6 feet of social distancing while wearing a face covering.”
“Our approach will welcome 50% of the student population back on rotating days and all staff and students will be required to wear a cloth face covering while in classrooms and whenever a social distance of 6 feet is not feasible, Ms. Fano said.”
Ms. Fano mentioned that it is critical for the district to continue to refine and enhance its plan for virtual instruction in the fall emphasizing that school districts were asked to create a plan specific for re-entry to our school buildings. Furthermore, she reiterated New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s tweet regarding his expectations for students to return to schools for in-person instruction. “The decision to return to our school buildings is NOT a local decision,” Ms. Fano said. “Again, we are required to develop a plan by the end of July. When that plan will be put into effect will be determined by the health professionals and other state officials. We know staff and students have questions and concerns about our ability to gather indoors while the pandemic is still ongoing. It was made very clear that our re-entry plan must outline in-person instructional opportunities, and a school district choosing to remain 100% virtual was not permissible and each district MUST be prepared to return to delivering virtual instruction at a moment’s notice.
“As of today, we are told that schools in New Jersey will re-open for in- person instruction in the fall,” Ms. Fano said. “As we began this process, our top priority was to develop a plan that brought students and staff back into our buildings in the safest manner possible. Ideally, we wanted to bring all learners back and resume a schedule that resembled what we had before the pandemic caused our school buildings to close, but that is not possible. We realize that a modified schedule creates many challenges for families and staff. However, we are not able to safely bring all students back on a daily basis while social distancing is required. The schedule we have developed brings 50% of the students into our buildings on a rotating basis and follows a modified schedule each day. We did consider keeping some grade levels virtual to spread out the other students across various buildings, but again, the directive was to create a plan for in-person instruction. With that said, we are NOT able to maintain a minimum of 3-6 feet of social distance in most of our instructional spaces with all students. It is also important to note that special education programing will be based upon each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and will be communicated with parents. Some specialized programs where 6 feet of social distancing can be achieved will follow a slightly different schedule.” The superintendent then provided an overview of how planning has progressed from April through July.
Members of the district’s restart team shared key elements of the district’s tentative plan.
“The governance team was tasked with reviewing our district policies to ensure that we our Restart Plan is in compliance,” Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Frost said. “As part of this review, our policy advisor Strauss Esmay released a new policy for consideration late last week, policy # 1648 "Restart and Recovery Plan.” The district administration is thoroughly reviewing this policy and preparing recommendations for the Board of Education Policy Committee to consider. To streamline our policy review, policy 1648 will include the attachment of certain elements of our Restart and Recovery Plan. In addition to this new policy, the administration and other key individuals, including our lead nurse, Board Attorney, and School Physician, have reviewed more than 15 policies and regulations for the policy committee to consider. Full recommendations will be provided to the committee and Board of Education for consideration in August.”
Health Pandemic Plan
Randolph’s Lead Nurse, Mary Sharon Lopez, provided the following information:
- Lead Nurse is working with the District Medical Inspector to develop exclusion and re-entry criteria related to COVID-19
- Frequent telephone conversations about current practice trends in COVID-19 incidence/contact tracing between Lead Nurse and Randolph Public Health nurses
- Frequent attendance by all nurses at health professional online webinars regarding current best practices/updates for care of COVID-19 patients
- Supplies of masks for the health offices have been ordered and received. More respirator masks will be ordered for the health offices this week
- Pumps of hand sanitizer for the health offices have been ordered and received
- Isolation apparel kits have been ordered and are awaiting delivery. The purchase of scrubs/lab coats for each nurse is being explored currently
- Infrared scanning thermometers have been ordered for each nurse – and are awaiting delivery
- Gloves for health offices ordered and received
- Each nurse is working with their building Principal to designate
Isolation areas for ill students/those receiving inhaler treatments Recommendations based upon current best practices (fluid):
- Generalized Honeywell alert to parents prior to start of school year describing need to keep students home from school when exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
- Markings for 6 foot distancing on health office floors
- Dedicated cleaning staff/cleaning supplies for health offices.
- Hand sanitizer stations for health offices.
- Purchase air purifiers for health offices/isolation rooms
- Attendance office personnel should instruct parents to refer to
Private Medical Doctor when an illness is reported with COVID-19 symptoms (as described in the CDC guidelines).
Director of Special Services Walter Curioni advised that upon return to our school buildings, the district will ask staff, students, and parents to implement the following health screening procedures:
- Symptom screening will be done by all parents/guardians at home each morning before the school day. No children with symptoms should be sent on a bus or brought to school.
- All district staff will perform a symptom screen on themselves prior to leaving for work and will stay home if ill.
- Students and staff will be made aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and will go to the nurse immediately if feeling symptomatic.
Mr. Curioni said the district will also ask staff and parents to ensure that they have a working thermometer in their home, personal supplies of hand sanitizer (alcohol-based) that their child can carry to school, and any other personal effects that a parent believes will help their child feel comfortable back in a school environment. He advised that the district will communicate additional information about health and hygiene practices as the district gets closer to re-entry.
Staff and Student Wellness
Mr. Curioni shared that the social and emotional wellness of students and staff remains the district’s top concern and predates the pandemic. He explained that the committee has examined several different topics including the number of observations for tenured staff, student growth objectives, and professional development. Mr. Curioni advised that recommendations for New Staff Orientation and Professional Development will consider social and emotional wellness initiatives. Additionally, he shared that counseling for at-risk students is uninterrupted in the summer months, and that Child Study Team members and counselors continue to connect with students and families.
School Sanitation and Safety
Mr. Frost advised that staff and students will be asked to practice social distancing of 3-6 feet as this would allow the district to bring back a larger percentage of students. He advised that the district will also require both students and staff to wear mask in hallways and classroom when 6 feet of distance could not be maintained.
He outlined the following procedures:
• Classroom configurations will be altered for maximum social distancing. For example, desks will be staggered with limitations on face-to-face seating. There will be a minimum spacing of three to six feet between desks and tables. The American Assembly of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a three-foot distance because it is associated with large reductions in infection via droplet spread of coughs and sneezes.
- All high-touch surfaces will continue to be disinfected regularly, including water fountains, door handles, light switches, playground equipment, and student desks. Students and staff will be encouraged to use individual water bottles from home or disposable plastic bottles. As part of the district's regular cleaning procedures, electrostatic disinfection is used to further ensure our areas are clean.
- All individuals in school will sanitize or wash their hands on a frequent basis. Hand sanitizer will be made available in all common areas, hallways, and/or in classrooms where sinks for handwashing are not available.
- Classrooms and common areas will be ventilated with additional circulation of outdoor air when possible, using windows, doors, and/or fans.
Mr. Frost advised that mask wearing is an essential tool in keeping all students and staff safe. To ensure proper mask wearing, he emphasized that parents should begin to create face covering “endurance” with their children.
Visitor and Gathering Procedures
As the district has throughout the pandemic, the flow of visitors and the district’s procedures for visitors will be modified. Mr. Frost advised that any visitor will be required to have an appointment and wear a face covering while on property. He shared that where applicable, any visits to the building will be scheduled virtually. In addition, Mr. Frost said that each building will provide drop-off procedures for arrival and pickup procedures for dismissal. The district is awaiting guidance from the NJSIAA, but anticipates spectators will be limited or not permitted to attend.
Mr. Frost shared that the district is avoiding large gatherings of adults and students where possible. Large group assemblies will not take place in person at this time. Faculty and department meetings, wherever possible, will be held virtually.
Mr. Frost advised that meals will be available to students at all levels on all weekdays. Each building will release specific protocols for obtaining meals.
“The number one guiding principle of the district's reopening plan is the health, safety, and wellbeing of our students and staff. Safety protocols and concern for the wellbeing of all students and staff was a primary concern of all stakeholders in our survey data. To this end, the Community School will not operate its Before Care, After Care, Holiday Fun, or Early Dismissal Care programs to start the school year,” Mr. Frost said. “As the reopening occurs, we will continually reevaluate this decision and reopen programs as concerns over student and staff safety can be better understood and managed.”
The state informed the district that, “If a district is providing transportation services on a school bus but is unable to maintain social distancing, a face covering must be worn by all students who are able to do so upon entering the bus.” Mr. Frost advised that Randolph will require that the bus driver and all students who ride a bus wear a cloth face covering. He added that the district will seek to maintain as much distance as possible between riders on school buses, but 3-6 feet of space may not be possible on most routes most of the time as providing 6 feet of social distancing would require running routes with just 11 students on a 54 passenger bus. Furthermore, students will load each bus based on stop order meaning that first students picked up in the morning will sit in the back of the bus to limit students passing each other on the bus and siblings will sit together.
District Director of Technology Peter Emmel provided the following information:
- Technology will continue to support families and staff as they have in the previous school year with regards to devices, internet access and technical support on personal devices.
- District issued devices will not be collected prior to the start of the school year to ensure families have the tools needed to support virtual classes.
- Students with a district-issued device will be asked to leave this device at home so it is available during virtual lessons.
- Technology will work with buildings to restructure room layouts to support current safety guidelines.
- Technology will be running live demos on all classroom machines being used to connect with virtual students to ensure no technical issues.
Survey Data and Responses
Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Olsen shared that the district surveyed stakeholders to determine opinions related to re-opening including concerns about in-person and hybrid instruction. He advised that all survey participants were asked a series of questions and given the opportunity to share written remarks with the district administrative team. Mr. Olsen outlined that over three thousand responses were collected with students in grades 6-12 accounting for 8% of the total, Randolph employees accounting for 15%, and parents
making up the rest—77%. Director of Elementary Education Danielle Soldivieri added that the largest majority of student survey respondents came from the high school and that the largest majority of staff survey responses were from teachers. Ms. Soldivieri shared the breakdown of survey responses from parents by grade level.
Ms. Soldiveri shared the following:
When asked 'to what extent our parents, staff, and students support or oppose both hybrid and fully in-person instruction, the results indicated that:
More parents prefer hybrid instruction than fully in-person
- 63% support hybrid instruction
- 54% support fully in-person
- 25% strongly oppose fully in-person
More staff prefer hybrid instruction over a fully in-person model
- 73% support hybrid instruction
- 40% support fully in-person
- 51% oppose fully in-person
Student preference between hybrid instruction and fully in-person instruction is split
- 54% support hybrid instruction
- 53% support fully in-person instruction
Mr. Olsen advised that survey respondents were also asked to indicate what their biggest concerns were related to hybrid instruction and a fully in-person model.
Mr. Olsen shared the following results:
“In the hybrid model, while there were some differences, overwhelmingly all respondents considered engagement in online learning to be a concern along with the quality of instruction received online. We have taken this feedback as part of our assessment of our virtual learning program—along with feedback from our stakeholder groups—and have made changes which will be detailed later in this presentation. Mental and emotional health were also concerns shared by parents and students demonstrating that this pandemic is certainly a stressful time for everyone. Staff are concerned with wearing of facemasks to keep school areas germ free.
In the fully in-person model, all stakeholders are concerned about ensuring social distancing guidelines are followed, that schools are cleaned to prevent an outbreak, and ensuring that students and staff wear face masks. While respondents were given fewer selections for this question than the hybrid model, concerns are almost identical for the different groups. After receiving this feedback, analyzing architect renderings of all building spaces using models with 3 and 6 feet of social distancing between student workspaces, and setting up rooms to simulate how our classrooms might look under different scenarios, we have determined that a model where all students are in school at the same time for a full school day is not feasible at this time. Of course, we continue to monitor directives from the state government and New Jersey Department of Education and will ensure we are compliant with issued mandates throughout the upcoming school year.”
Ms. Soldivieri advised that due to an inability to ensure 3 – 6 feet of distance between students at all times, staff and students will be required to wear a cloth face covering at all times, including in hallways and on busses unless doing so would inhibit an individual's health. She advised the district will work with staff to offer students mask breaks throughout the day whenever safely possible. School staff and visitors will also be required to wear face coverings, unless doing so would inhibit their individual health or an individual is under two years of age.
Mr. Olsen and Ms. Soldivieri shared the district’s Hybrid Model for All Levels (K-12) as well as summer programs which can be found on the PowerPoint for the presentation on the district’s website.