FLEMINGTON, NJ - A policy making more in-person learning possible in Flemington-Raritan Regional School District passed with an 8-1 vote Monday night.

The move will allow the district to combine its two cohorts by making its desk physical distancing requirement 3 feet and, ideally, 6 feet apart. The change also allows face coverings to be removed when gym is held outdoors.

The change is expected to begin March 22, still with half days and the cohorts attending school together.

Board member Dr. Marianne Kenny voted against the measure, saying that, as a mother and a pharmacist, she has been following information regarding the coronavirus closely and could not in good faith support the policy change. The 6-foot parameters come from the CDC framework, Kenny said, and she also cited a joint statement from the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association urging precaution to limit the spread.

By changing the policy, the board is removing two mitigation layers, Kenny said – the 6-foot distancing and the two separate cohorts.

“We understand how this is a tough decision,” said superintendent Dr. Kari McGann. “But I still stand by that it’s best for the kids.”

McGann also said she is confident it can be done safely.

“I’m asking for the parents to remain vigilant,” said Tim Bart, board president. “Don’t be complacent with these strategies, with transparency.”

“It gives me hope that our children will go back to school in a few weeks time and back to some sense of normalcy,” said Lillian Colpas, a mother of two children in the district.

While students were “thrilled to return to friends and teachers,” the hybrid model has been “less than ideal,” said Kathleen Barbee, of Raritan Township, a school nurse in the district.

She said it is time to return to school full time.

“I believe it is time, and I believe it can be done safely,” Barbee said, noting opening with normal class sizes can be done without significant increases in COVID-19 cases. “In our own district, we have seen minimal transmission in the buildings.”

Some parents expressed concerns about the change to the in-person schedule.

“I think the board is rushing to do this,” said Nicole Piccoli, mother of two children in the district.

Piccoli said she is on board for a fall opening and would prefer to keep the hybrid schedule through the remainder of the school year, which, she said, would give the added benefit of allowing teachers time to be vaccinated.

Julia Colvin, of Raritan Township, echoed her concerns.

“We were hoping that everything would be scheduled for a return in the fall, and this just seems rushed,” she said.

Parent Caitlin Persche said she is concerned with teachers potentially being put at risk with double the students and less social distancing.

“My concern rather is what teachers are being asked to do in this new model,” Persche said.

Several parents also voiced concerns over virtual learners as the district transitions to more in-person learning. Bart assured them the district wants all learners to get a high level of education.

The district has about 3,000 students, and more than 900 are currently all-virtual learners.