WEST ORANGE, NJ — Parents were invited to ask questions on Facebook Live last Wednesday related to the upcoming hybrid reopening of West Orange Public Schools (WOPS) on Nov. 9. 

Hosted by WOPS Superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone, he answered a series of questions ranging from method of instruction to the need for testing students before entering school.

 The recorded video is now available on the district website and a transcripted FAQ is in the works and will be made available soon.

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With the survey deadline to opt out of hybrid schooling approaching—it was extended to Wednesday, Oct. 21—many parents asked if they would still have the option to switch between hybrid-to-full virtual and vice versa at any time.

 "We're looking to make this as seamless as possible," Cascone said. Regarding the survey, he continued that "nothing is set in stone,” but asked for parents to keep in mind that changing from full virtual to hybrid will require more technical logistics because of the need to communicate with the transportation department to secure bus routes.

Parents also asked how teachers, who are expected to teach from the classroom, will be able to manage teaching in person and virtually at the same time.

Cascone answered that at a previous WOBOE meeting, some district teachers were appointed as Education Technology Specialists to help teachers transition to teaching different cohorts of students. 

He said that the district had spent “tens of thousands of dollars” in upgrading the classroom Audio/Visual (A/V) experience by purchasing Apple AirPods for all teachers teaching virtually for improved sound quality (even with a mask) and having two webcams in every classroom.

“Last Friday, the Education Integration Specialists walked the teachers through the process of having people in class and on computers and understanding how everything sounded,” Cascone said.

For teachers who have taken leave or have retired in recent weeks, Cascone said that the district is doing its best to get staffing where needed.

“In the interim if, for example, we are not able to find a replacement in time, we will allow the teacher […] to teach virtually from home and we’ll have either a second teacher in the classroom or a certified substitute teacher in the classroom to manage that classroom,” he said.

The amount of leaves in the district is not unmanageable at this time, Cascone said, but he feels that having this plan in place in the interim is “preferable” than to have a teacher go on leave and have a substitute teacher teach the lesson.  

When asked about the state of testing students for COVID before Nov. 9 or sending out health questionnaires to parents, Cascone said that neither option was required by the CDC and would slow students getting back into schools.

Students and staff will only be given a temperature check before coming into the school buildings, he said.

Cascone also added that at no time will students be tested on buses, and they will not be allowed on the bus without a mask. 

Students will also not be allowed to use lockers in school and there will be no sit-down lunches, only grab-and-go.

With school starting so close to the start of the holiday season, parents asked if schools were going to close for Thanksgiving or Christmas break.

Cascone replied that he was “not comfortable” with closing the school district again only weeks after reopening, but he understands if parents would like to travel with their children for the holidays. He continued that parents, however, should be “cautious and prudent in travel.”

He later added that most contracted cases of the coronavirus come from outside the district, including the recent cases at Washington Elementary School and the transportation department.

In terms of school closures due to the virus, Cascone said the contraction of virus will drive the decision making in the district.

“Let’s say we have cases rising in town” Cascone said. “A case in the high school is not going to lead to the shutdown of the [West Orange] High School.” He continued that one case would lead to the quarantining of any students with whom the child was in contact with for 10 minutes or longer in a prolonged space.

If a maximum of 10 people could occupy a classroom with a maximum size of 1,000 square feet per class, that would lead to a maximum of 70 students and teachers who would be quarantined, but the school would remain open, while the district continued to monitor cases through contact tracing, Cascone said.

He added if there was a case from a different cohort that was completely unrelated to the first, that would lead to the WOHS closing for two weeks, but other schools will remain open.

 For parents and students who may still be on the fence about transitioning to hybrid schooling, Cascone said that ultimately the decision is in the hands of parents. 

Many parents have placed a high priority on having their students in school, but from the very beginning, Cascone said that he had explained that going back on-site was going to be “very different” from what students have experienced in the past because the level of collaboration and physical interaction will be very little.

However, Cascone—whose children are currently in hybrid—added that in his opinion, being on-site would keep students “disciplined” in maintaining the routine of being in school.

For answers to more questions posed during the live question and answer session go to woboe.org.

The next virtual public West Orange Board of Education meeting will be on Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m.