SPARTA, NJ – Sparta School District’s elementary school students will be back at their desks with their teachers sooner than anticipated.  According to acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney, Alpine Elementary School will open to Kindergarten and first grade students on Tuesday, September 29.

Then on Monday, October 12 students from second to fifth grade will return to Alpine, Mohawk Avenue School and Helen Morgan School. 

McQueeny said currently no elementary students have reported a positive COVID-19 test but this is a “fluid situation.” Testing for COVID-19 is handled between the student’s family and health care provider and the county health department.  The health department also handles contact tracing, though the school will cooperate in sharing attendance data.

Sign Up for Sparta Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Sparta Middle School and High School students will remain on virtual instruction until further notice, McQueeney said. The district announced late last week and over the weekend several high school students who are learning remotely have testing positive for the coronavirus. 

Preschool students have been in school from the beginning of September.  When the school district pulled the plug on the original hybrid reopening plan they announced a return date of November 2.

"First and foremost, the Sparta Board of Education would like to thank the parents and students for their patience," board of education president Kim Bragg said. "The Board greatly appreciates the efforts of Mr. McQueeney and his administrative team for their persistence in getting our students back to school to in person learning. Navigating the staffing challenges has been a very difficult task."

The district administrators “reviewed the 105 leave of absence requests filed by teachers, beginning with the younger grades, in an effort to return our youngest learners to the classrooms,” McQueeney said. “We were able to find accommodations for staff members with requests to have them return to buildings for instruction.”

McQueeney said administrators have been interviewing leave replacement substitutes if a staff member decides to request a leave of absence. He said they have "narrowed this number to a few staff member [for whom they] have replacements available" to ensure classroom coverage if needed.

As originally announced with the hybrid plan, special education students are able to attend school in person every day, regardless of their cohort. Parents are encouraged to direct questions about the student’s in person learning experience to their case manager or the Special Services department.

The elementary school principals, Giuseppe Leone, Laura Trent and Doug Layman will be relaying details about schedules and expectations for virtual learners and other details, McQueeney said.

The district will be following the hybrid schedule and plan initially announced to the district in July.  Two cohorts of students, A and B will alternate weeks of learning in-person or virtual.  The A cohort will be student with last names beginning A to K, cohort B covers L through Z.

The thought in dividing the classes alphabetically is to allow for siblings to be in the same cohorts, according to McQueeney.

Elementary students will have specials but physical education will be taught virtually. Elementary students will be allowed to bring snacks.  They will eat them outside as the weather permits.  If they have to eat inside, hand washing and social distancing protocols will be followed.

Schedules call for a shortened day because of the need to have students eat lunch at home and to allow for thorough cleaning and sanitizing of classrooms and common areas.  The afternoon will be used to have staff members meet with the virtually students as well as provide academic assistance.

Free lunches will be available for students to take home. The meals will be prepared at the high school and brought to the schools.

All Sparta students are required to follow the attendance policy established by the board of education, regardless of whether school is in person or learning remotely.  

Families who originally selected remote learning only, will continue to learn from home, according to McQueeney.

“Virtual learning has been much improved when compared to the virtual learning this past spring but it is not without its challenges,” McQueeney said.  “Our teachers have stepped up and really developed great lessons and experiences for our students in the virtual environment.”

The Sparta Board of Education has had an ad hoc Return to School Committee meeting through the shutdown in the spring and over the summer with the district staff to support and advise on the plan to return students to the classrooms.

In his letter to the community, McQueeney thanked the committee members chairman Robert Zywicki, board president Kim Bragg and board members Niamh Grano and Jason Ventresca. Zywicki had been a part of Governor Murphy’s school reopening team, presenting the state’s plan at a press conference in June.

McQueeney also thanked the teacher "who continue to demonstrate their commitment to students through their creative and engageing presetations of positive learning experiences in the virutal enviroments."

The students and staff will be required to wear a mask at all times.  McQueeney has said teachers will be scheduling “mask breaks” outdoors as time allows.  Students and staff are expected to bring their choice of mask to school but will have an emergency supply.

McQueeny said currently no elementary students have reported a positive COVID-19 test but this is a “fluid situation.” Testing for COVID-19 is handled between the student’s family and health care provider and the county health department.  The health department also handles contact tracing, though the school will cooperate in sharing attendance data.

The school district's entire hybrid reopening plan was submitted to and approved by the New Jersey Department of Education.

The next Sparta Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 24 at Dykstra Park, weather permitting.  It will be livestreamed regardless of the meeting location.

Get your local news delivered to your inbox for FREE each day.  Subscribe to TAPinto Newton or Sparta   or Like us on TAPinto Newton facebook and  TAPinto Sparta facebook