SPRINGFIELD, NJ — The Springfield School District has informed families in the district that all schools will remain closed until at least November and that classes will begin with an online-only system when the academic year begins in September.
Schools Superintendent Rachel Goldberg sent out an email to district families Monday evening informing them of the news.
"On Thursday, August 13, 2020, two critical pieces of communication were shared by state agencies," Goldberg said in her e-mail. "First, Governor Murphy’s Executive Order No. 175 clarified requirements for opening schools. Second, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) published the 'COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for K-12 Schools,' providing additional guidance regarding contact tracing and district responses to positive cases of COVID-19. Together, these pieces of guidance are impacting how we evaluate our ability to offer a high-quality hybrid learning experience. As we continue to work through the plans to operationalize our plan for opening schools, we are identifying critical challenges to a successful implementation of both models of hybrid and in-person learning including:
• Changes in guidance from health authorities regarding the contact tracing process;
• Increased numbers of staff members who will not be able to support in-person instruction due to critical health issues; and
• Finalizing planned infrastructure changes.
First, the changes and updates in guidance from the NJDOH has significant impacts on planning and preparing for the health and safety of our students. The document notes the following:
• “Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in children may be similar to those of common viral respiratory infections or other childhood illnesses” (p. 10).
• “There is not a single symptom that is uniquely predictive of a COVID-19 diagnosis” (p. 10).
• Based on the “regional risk matrix” available on August 17, 2020, Union County is at a “Moderate” risk, indicating students with multiple symptoms (i.e. headache and cough) should be excluded from school following the “Exclusion Table” (p.12-13).
Locally, the Springfield School District's decision comes on the heels of Union County neighbor Scotch Plains-Fanwood opting to keep its doors closed in September--a decision which families in that district were informed of at 10:30 p.m. last Friday night.
"It has become clear that offering the in-person hybrid would require significant shifts of teachers across schools and grade levels, ultimately at the expense of a stronger learning experience, whether virtual or in-person," Goldberg said. "Third, the district is working to finalize critical infrastructure changes necessary to meet the requirements set by the State. As of last week, the district has received the hand sanitizer machines ordered earlier in the summer and the facilities team will continue installation in every classroom in the district. This week, new fresh air window vents are arriving and installation will begin this week to fit them into over 70 classrooms with identified window-related challenges. Finally, we are using the OnCourse program to support the daily health questionnaire deployment. While the program has been created, the district must provide adequate training to our staff and our families prior to in-person instruction resuming to ensure the appropriate protocols are followed. Fourth, the district is committed to significantly improving the virtual learning experience for all of our students and providing high-quality instruction and student support. To accomplish this, we have worked with the Springfield Education Association to add professional development days at the start of the year, and include ongoing learning throughout the year."
The district will be revising the plan to begin the school year as a virtual only model for the first part of the school year. The timeline to implement the Springfield 2020:
• Sept. 8-9: 2 Additional Days of Professional Development for Staff relating to virtual instruction
• Sept. 10: Full District Virtual Instruction Begins.
• On or before Oct. 19: The district will present the district status of proceeding with the reopening plan. In grades K-12, this will be a two-day “A/B” model.
• Week of Nov. 2: If the district is able to move forward, students in grades K-6 will begin in-person learning opportunities.
• Nov. 17: If the district is able to move forward, students in grades 7-12 will begin Marking Period 2 with in-person learning opportunities.
The Springfield district have not made any announcements yet on the status of school sports this fall. Gov. Murphy on Monday stated that fall sports may proceed even in districts that will be using the all-online learning option. But the final decision rests with the individual districts.