MILLTOWN, NJ - The Milltown School District announced plans to open the Parkview and Joyce Kilmer Schools on a fully virtual model in September if permitted to do so by the state. Milltown School District Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Brown made the announcement on Thursday with a letter to Milltown parents.
"If the scope of our local authority to make decisions increases, the Executive Reentry Planning Committee has agreed that it is in the best interest of the health and safety of our students and staff, and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community, to begin the school year in September fully virtual," Brown wrote in her August 6 letter. "Given the restrictions associated with the phases of reopening that the state regulations dictate, we feel that remaining virtual is the most responsible decision for Milltown Schools to keep everyone safe. If we do obtain permission to open virtually in September, we will be monitoring the situation and reassess again in 30 days to determine when we will be able to move into our next phase and open schools under the initial hybrid plan."
The Milltown School District has two schools with a student body population around 750. The Parkview School houses preschool through third grade and the Joyce Kilmer School has grades four through eight. Milltown's ninth through 12th graders attend Spotswood High School. The Spotswood School District announced on July 30 that it was their intent to begin the 2020-21 academic year fully virtual as well if approved by the state.
Throughout the summer, Milltown's Restart Committee has been working with the New Jersey's State Department of Education's Roadback, which is a detailed guideline for the reopening of Garden State schools in September. In addition to the state guidelines, the Restart Committee also utilized the results of two parent forums, public feedback during Milltown Board of Education meetings, "community partners, health experts, legal authorities and administrative leadership" in Middlesex County according to Brown's letter to form the two educational models for borough students. Two models of education were developed after weeks of meetings and include a fully virtual model and a hybrid one. The hybrid model would have Milltown students being split into two cohorts in order to keep class sizes down and allow for social distancing. Each cohort would attend class in-person for two days with two days of virtual instruction. Wednesdays would be a virtual instruction day for all students. If the district does utilize the hybrid model, parents will have the option of opting for their children to receive fully virtual instruction.
A complete, detailed plan of both the virtual and hybrid model proposed by the Milltown School District is available on the district website. Should the state turn down the district's plan to begin the academic year fully virtual, the hybrid model would be put in place. On in-person days, masks would be worn by all staff and students while in school. Students would also be required to have assigned seating with desks placed six-feet apart. In classrooms without desks, students would be separated by acrylic dividers. Brown's letter also stated that should students begin the school year with the hybrid model, the sharing of materials would be "extremely limited" and that students would be asked to bring in an extra mask in a plastic bag labeled with their name for emergency use.
New Jersey educational districts have been announcing their plans for their proposed reopening of schools throughout the past few weeks. Red Bank and South Plainfield plan on beginning the school year with a hybrid model as does Old Bridge and South River. The South Brunswick School District announced last week that it would start the school year mostly virtual with remote learning centers available for students that could not stay at home because of working parents. Like Milltown and Spotswood, South Brunswick said the plan would be reassessed in three weeks to see if the hybrid model was feasible. All proposed plans for the reopening of school districts must be approved by the state.
Earlier this summer, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stated that all Garden State school districts must offer some in-person instruction. He later said that any parents not comfortable with a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction could opt for a fully virtual format. Last week the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association made a public appeal to the governor to have all schools open virtually.
"We must remember that beginning the school year with remote learning is a temporary solution, and that a full return to in-person learning is (hopefully) just around the corner." Patricia Wright, Executive Director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association wrote in an op-ed piece published in NJ Spotlight. "School districts have been hard at work all summer planning for reopening and will continue to develop and improve their preparations and instructional plans to transition students back to the classroom equitably and safely, as soon as the time is right."
"So as New Jersey considers the question of school reopening this fall, NJPSA asks that all members of our school and state community come together on one intractable goal — safeguarding our students, our staff and our communities from further spread of COVID-19 while building the capacity for all students to engage in high-quality virtual learning," Wright continued.
Milltown students are scheduled to return to school on Wednesday, September 2. Teachers return on Monday, August 31. The Milltown and Spotswood School Districts are both beginning school before Labor Day weekend this academic year. Labor Day falls on September 7.
Brown stated that a parent forum would be announced in the upcoming days to address questions and concerns.
"We understand that there are questions, comments and concerns that will be raised by our school community," Brown wrote. "A date will be announced for an upcoming parent forum in order for specific details that may not be defined in the plan to be addressed. It is our intention to continue to put forth our best collaborative efforts to provide our students with a high quality education under these unconventional circumstances until we are able to return to a more typical school day."