NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — In response to the rapidly evolving information regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the West Essex Public Regional Schools district has announced a long-term closure plan of 2 weeks with online instruction until Friday, March 27. All extracurricular activities, sports, clubs and field trips have been postponed until further notice.

Schools issued a "School Closure Preparedness Plan" to all students to help guide students, parents, faculty and staff on Friday afternoon regarding instruction, support services and procedures. The district stated that said that this plan will be re-evaluated as more information becomes available.

Melissa Fiore, a school employee and a mother of three, said she is "playing it by ear" when it comes to the long-term closure. 

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"I know our teachers have worked tirelessly to plan and prepare for this, so I will make sure my children are doing all the work provided for them," she said. "As for outings, they will be limited. My children's health and safety come first."

Carla Pereira, another educator and a mother of two, said that the school closings were both precautionary and necessary.

"The health and safety or our children should come first," said Pereira. "My hopes are that during the remote learning period all students are successful with their continued education."

Kelly Baldi, mother of two, agreed that the schools made the right decision.

"For the safety of the students and staff, closing the schools and moving to remote learning was a necessary and responsible decision," she said.

According to the West Essex district, daily attendance will be recorded and parents must notify the school if their child is unable to engage in instructional activities. Superintendent of Schoold Damion Macioci explained that both the middle and high school will adhere to the single-session bell schedule and pre-existing rotating drop schedule.

Students are not required to log in at a specific time; however, teachers will be available to answer questions and provide instruction during their scheduled periods, he said.

According to principals Caesar Diliberto (high school) and Gina Donlevie (middle school), teachers will have the flexibility to use varying methods of instruction to provide enrichment as well as introduce new concepts.

Some teachers may provide real-time online learning opportunities, where students have the option to participate live. Teachers who choose to utilize live instruction will make recordings and/or documents available to all students after each class, they said.

The districts also recommended that students log in daily to check for teacher updates and complete and submit all assignments by their corresponding deadlines. Parents and students are encouraged to communicate with teachers via email about academics, assignments or extenuating circumstances.

School counselors and guidance secretaries will be available via email. The high school guidance team will continue with scheduling meetings to discuss course placements, review next year course selections, and address any questions parents and students may have about the upcoming school year. Counselors will schedule meeting times via email.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms are most mild for people under 30 years old who do not have any chronic medical conditions. These include a runny nose, cough, sore throat or fever.

In severe cases, difficulty breathing and pneumonia can also develop. Anyone who exhibits any these symptoms are urged to contact his or her personal physician for further instructions.

During school closures, the West Essex district urges the community continue to take the following precautions:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.

  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.

  • Stay home if you are sick.

  •  Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; this is how germs spread.

  • Cough into your elbow, not your hands. 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

  • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Fairfield Public Schools will also close during the same period. Susan Ciccotelli, Superintendent of Fairfield Public Schools, said the faculty takes the decision to close school with the utmost seriousness.

"This plan was not reached lightly or easily," she said. "The health and safety of our students and staff have to come first, and we believe this plan does just that. In light of the potential health risks, we felt strongly that we need to be proactive and responsive in light of the emerging information.

"If we waited for known cases, or a spread through our schools, we certainly would look back with regret. We believe this is the best time to put this procedure in place."

During the "remote learning" period, Ciccotelli said she will continue to communicate with the community with any updates.

"We all hope that the members of our community remain in good health and that we are able to be together again in our schools as soon as we can," she said.

The districts expressed gratitude toward the community for their cooperation during this time.