SUMMIT, NJ - Factoring in guidance received from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the American Academy of Pediatics (AAP), the Summit Public Schools -- "with knowledge of our district, its value and its commitments" -- has released, in an emailed letter to the "Summit Public Schools Community" from Acting Superintendent of Schools Robert Gardella, its initial plans for the 2020-21 school year.

Stating that the District will "provide the best learning opportunities for our students" and "focus on creating gains while balancing and mitigating risks," the Hilltop City District "will do our very best to create learning environments that are safe using the precautions related to mitigating risk of transmission of COVID-19."

The letter goes on to detail that "The Summit Public Schools has created the following guiding principles for development of a comprehensive plan: 

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  • We will strive to maximize learning. Student achievement is always an important factor.
  • We will make the overall health and safety of the students, staff, and community a priority. This includes physical, mental, and social-emotional health and well-being.
  • We will do our best to ensure equitable access for all students, while respecting families that are concerned and/or high risk.
  • We will communicate in an ongoing and transparent manner."

While leaving flexibility for interpretation on how New Jersey schools should operate when they are open, the NJDOE guidance noted that "absent a shift in public health data, school buildings will open in some capacity for in-person instruction and operations in the fall," while the AAP noted "the importance of having children attend school" and reinforced "that the negative implications and consequences of not having students in school every day must be weighed against the current evidence about how COVID-19 affects school-aged children."

Plan Details

The District states:

"The current plan is to offer in-person, 5 days a week learning to every student who would like to have that option. There will be an improved remote instruction program offered as an option for all families who have concerns about sending their children in person. 

Our plans are being made based on what we believe is best for our educational community. The details and considerations below represent the foundation that we are building from, however all plans will be subject to additional input and approvals from the local Departments of Health and the Department of Education. 

In-person instruction: 

Confirmed in-person details to date: 

  • Students and staff will be required to wear face coverings, with accommodations made for those who cannot for certain medical or other conditions that preclude the use of face coverings.
  • We will strive to create as much physical distancing as possible in classrooms, hallways, and other spaces.
  • We will add measures and additional time during the day to allow for handwashing, mask “breaks,” snack, etc.
  • Policies for daily screenings, handling of symptoms, and contact tracing will be developed and communicated as the summer progresses."

Also noted:

  • The school-day length has not yet been confirmed, with the possible need to follow an abbreviated daily schedule.
  • Whether, if at all, to serve lunch.
  • How to offer / devote time to virtual instruction.
  • How to provide custodial staff sufficient time to sanitize the school(s) on a daily basis.

Relative to remote instruction, feedback has been obtained from students, parents, and staff on ways to improve on the spring remote instruction, with the District's Education Department and instruction subcommittees currently working on increasing "the rigor, touchpoints, expectations, and consistency of our remote instruction."

While acknowledging a tight timeline -- the District must deliver its plan to the NJDOE by the end of this month -- the District ha created a mechanism for community input and communication designed to enable "streamlined information," stating:

  • The PTO Presidents "will play a key role in our communications."
  • Gadella will "follow this communication by establishing connections with various community groups in order to ensure opportunities for input," to "include, but are not limited to diversity groups, local childcare providers, and groups that support the District with financial and other resources."
  • "District Restart Committees" that include representation from the PTO President Council Leadership, the Board of Education, local emergency management officials, the police and City officials to ensure that all input is received. 
  • "School-Based Pandemic Response Teams," established via existing "School Safety Teams" (SSTs), and which will now include the PTO Presidents to ensure that "we have clear and efficient information flow with the District Restart Committees."

The letter concludes by asking parents to:

  • Take a 5-minute survey regarding their child’s in-person attendance in the fall by Friday, July 10.

  • Start building “'mask endurance'” in your student(s)" by finding reusable / washable face coverings "that your child is comfortable wearing and gradually build up the amount of time they can tolerate wearing them."