MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The following is the letter being sent today, March 10, to South Orange Maplewood School District's parents, staff, and students by Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor. A new page on the district website has been established, devoted to COVID-19 updates: https://www.somsd.k12.nj.us/district/nursingservices/coronavirusupdates/

Among the information is the news that Matilda, the Columbia High School musical, has been postponed; it was set to run this upcoming weekend and next weekend as well.

Friday, March 13 has now been designated an early-dismissal day for the entire school district so that the District team can work with key staff members on the development of an offsite learning plan, should such a plan be needed. Taylor stressed that any decision concerning the long term cancellation of school would be for "dire circumstances."

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The full letter follows:

 

March 10, 2020

Dear South Orange & Maplewood Families,

The South Orange & Maplewood School District continues to work in partnership with our local, state, and federal health agencies to receive and share daily updates, guidance and mandates surrounding the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.  We will continue to work with Public Health Officials at the town, county, and state level as we make decisions that impact all of us.

At this time, there are no known or reported cases of COVID-19 in Essex County.  Currently, there are 15 positive cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey.  I am also in close contact with many colleagues at nearby school districts.  A number of schools have closed because of COVID-19 exposure, while others are doing so to prepare for the potential impact of contamination.  We understand that closing schools is disruptive to the lives of our district families; at this time, therefore, our District is not planning to close schools.

We will be shifting Friday, March 13th to an early-dismissal day for the entire school district (this date was previously scheduled as a parent-teacher conference early-dismissal for elementary schools only). Our District team has been working with key staff members on the development of an offsite learning plan in case of a long-term closure.  While we do not believe that additional full days for professional development are necessary to complete this plan, we do want to provide our teachers with a timely review of the extended academic student assignments.

In the event that we experience a confirmed positive COVID-19 case in the School District of South Orange and Maplewood (staff or student), we will close all schools in our school district for 24 hours. During this 24 hour-period, every school building will be deep-cleaned, and we will reassess the concern with our local health officers to determine next steps.

The District will put an offsite learning plan into effect only if dire circumstances force a long-term school closure or if the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) orders our schools to close for an extended period to control the spread of the virus.  The closure of District schools would not only create child care challenges and other disruptions for district parents/guardians but would also suspend critical and social services for hundreds of our families.  We hope to avoid that eventuality if possible.  If we do need to implement an offsite plan, it will involve multiple modes of sharing learning and assignments with students, likely including some online work for many students.  For the first time ever, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) will allow schools to utilize online learning to satisfy the 180-school-day requirement of the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).

I would like to provide you with a few updates on what our District is doing to prepare for the potential impact of COVID-19 on our schools.

·      A draft framework has been developed for our educational approach to offsite learning for Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, and High School and Special Services students. Our Curriculum and Instruction team is now formalizing our approach to ensure that the design offers consistency across all grade levels and secondary courses. The team will work with subject-level and grade-level supervisors (i.e., teachers and department leader) to provide input and details and assignment design.

·      We are working to establish Google Classroom sites specifically for each grade level in each school from 3rd – 12th (Assignments would be graded.)

·      Technology needs and gaps are being reviewed to determine hardware capacity. We have a diverse student population, and some of our students do not have regular access to technology or the internet. We will ensure that all students will have equal access to learning.

·      We are assessing the language translation needs for parental guidelines.

·      Services and logistics for out-of-district placement for students with severe disabilities and special needs are being assessed.

·      Since, by law, the district must continue providing meals to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch if schools are closed due to COVID-19, we are planning for this scenario with our food service vendor.

·      Finally, we are requesting that teachers provide activities/syllabi to any students who have to self-quarantine for a prolonged period.

In response to recommendations by the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to limit social contact, the District has reviewed upcoming events that were to bring large groups of students, adults, and community members together, as well as upcoming field trips.  It has been determined that the following postponements/cancelations are necessary:

·      The Matilda performances scheduled for Columbia High School are postponed. I have been in personal contact with Principal Morgan and the show’s director, Bethany Pettigrew, and we will continue the conversation on how to provide opportunities for our cast and crew to share their production with those who have purchased tickets.

·      Our Parent/Teacher Conferences scheduled for this week will no longer be face-to-face. We are encouraging our teachers, principals, and school-based personnel to support telephone conferences, Skype conferences, and other alternatives.

·      We will create a digital alternative to our Intentional Integration Town Hall, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 18.

·      A moratorium has been placed on all field trips until further notice. The First Tech Challenge (FTC) New Jersey Robotics State Championship that was scheduled for Columbia High School has also been postponed.

Additionally, we continue to implement all of the preventative measures as we have indicated in prior communications.  Within our buildings, custodial staff members are cleaning common and high-traffic areas several times a day, and we are providing resources, supplies, and time for students to wash their hands regularly. Our cleanliness expectations were reiterated to our custodial staff during recent trainings. Hand sanitizer continues to be distributed to every classroom teacher in the district. We have also implemented a daily sanitizing schedule for our school buses. Lastly, in a preponderance of caution, we will proceed with a new weekend deep-cleaning methodology utilizing electrostatic disinfectant sprayers for each school building (beginning this Saturday).

Please help us by keeping sick children at home. We are asking anyone with symptoms of any illness stay home for a minimum of 48 hours without a fever. If a student exhibits illness or COVID-19 related symptoms, the school nurse will contact a parent or guardian to come pick them up immediately.

We recognize how challenging this situation is for our families, students, and staff, and we take this situation seriously. We are taking real-time preventative measures in response to new information that key agencies provide.

Our goal is to keep our doors open as long as possible while prioritizing the health and safety of our students and staff. Thank you for working with us through this evolving situation that impacts all facets of life in our entire community. We will continue to provide you with regular updates.

Educationally Yours,

 

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor

Superintendent of Schools