FLEMINGTON, NJ - Flemington-Raritan Regional School District officials are considering changing the recently adopted hybrid schedule amid concerns students are not getting exposed frequently enough to core courses.

The district phased in a hybrid learning model beginning Oct. 5, with students rotating virtual and in-person classes weekly in two cohorts. That schedule leaves students away from core classes such as math and language arts in person for an entire week.

“This schedule is absolutely wrong for both of my children,” parent Jennifer Temple said at Monday’s board of education meeting, adding that one of her children is a fast learner, while the other requires more time to learn.

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The slower learner, Temple said, is left lagging behind during weeks when she has virtual classes.

“It creates such a mountain for her to climb that week,” Temple said, adding the schedule is not conducive to struggling students like her.

Superintendent Kari McGann said they are want to get back to normal schedules.

“Everybody wants us back the way we used to be with all students back in the building,” she said. “That’s what’s best for the children.”

Until that goal becomes a reality, students could begin having synchronous classes with teachers live streaming from an in-person classroom.

Board member Susan Mitcheltree offered her perspective on synchronous teaching from having two children who teach in other school districts that are using the teaching method. Assistant superintendent Daniel Bland that sometimes that method finds children sitting in front of a computer all day.

However, Mitcheltree said, “the teachers like the ease of having their children every single day. They see them week after week.”

Setting up such classrooms would cost the district $1,200 for about 350 classrooms for equipment such as a microphone and microphone receiver, laptop and cart, said Bland.

“It would become expensive,” Bland said.

“You have 20 students, 25 students in a class and they’re all with their teacher,” he added. “Certainly, it’s much easier to quarantine in this scenario because students would just stay home.”

The downside, he said, might be that instruction “would end up at the least common denominator” with teachers behind their computers and limited on strategies they can use. He also predicted technology issues, such as the ones the board itself has endured having virtual and hybrid meetings.

“Now imagine doing that with fourth-graders,” he said.

Mitcheltree said the teachers in other districts have adjusted to synchronous teaching.

“It does require some professional development,” she said. “Overall, they like the synchronous learning because they’re seeing their kids every day.”
 
Board vice president Jessica Abbott reiterated the need for core subjects such as math and language arts to be taught on a regular basis.

“How can we adjust so that we are offering our students regular instruction in their core classes on a regular basis?” she asked.

Board member Jeff Cain said the current schedule has its “flaws” and “challenges,” and that “to do nothing is not an option.”

“Under no circumstances do I want to sacrifice our children’s education or their future because it doesn’t work,” board member Valerie Bart added. “If there’s a cost, we’re just going to have to find the money.”

Mitcheltree said she believes synchronous teaching is the way to go.

Sue Vala, president of the Flemington Raritan Education Association, expressed concerns about making changes so soon after moving to a hybrid model.

“No one in education ever thinks that we shouldn’t want to improve,” she said. “But we haven’t even had time to perfect the hybrid that we have, and now we’re talking about changing to a different schedule.”

Raritan Township resident Rebecca Peterson echoed Vala’s concerns.

“Slow down here,” Peterson said, adding that the current model can be improved upon.

“Please, let’s look at the best way of doing this,” she added. “This constant change is beyond detrimental.”

Lisa Coster, a special education teacher at Reading-Flemington Intermediate School, said the idea of synchronous teaching needs more exploration.

“We need to really, really look at that option, it is definitely not ideal,” she said, “I just know synchronous is not ideal.”

Board member Melanie Rosengarden said there might be alterations they can make to the schedule.

“One thing that caught my attention is maybe we don’t need to change everyone’s schedule,” she said, noting grades five through eight especially need core classes.

Board members were also presented with the idea of a 2-1-2 schedule, where one cohort of students would attend in-person classes for the first two days, the entire district would have virtual class on Wednesday, and a second cohort of students would attend in-person classes the following two days. Wednesday would be used to deep clean buildings.

That would leave students with three virtual days per week and two in-person classroom days per week.

Currently, Bland said, students have 50 percent of their class time in person. That schedule would reduce in-person classroom time to 40 percent.

“Do we need a virtual Wednesday?” board president Tim Bart asked, adding they are seeking a way for more in-person instruction.

“Aren’t we deep cleaning every day as if someone had COVID?” Valerie Bart added.

McGann confirmed the buildings are cleaned and electrostatically sprayed daily.

From a practical perspective, board member Marianne Kenny offered, it’s easier to clean the buildings when empty.

No decision was made on potentially changing instruction schedules, but discussion will continue.