BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- Scrap Plan A, the superintendent is now recommending the district use Plan B across all grades when schools open this fall. The decision was driven, she said in part, by Governor Murphy's decision to "limit occupancy to no more than 25 people in any given indoor space" because of New Jersey's increasing transmission rate. Her recommendation also conforms with the results of a recent survey of the district’s teaching staff, who, “when asked which physical return to school plan was preferred, 90% of our teaching staff preferred Plan B, with the remaining 10% preferring Plan A,” wrote Superintendent of Schools Melissa Varley in an email to parents sent Monday, Aug. 10.
Plan B, which was presented as a contingency plan at the Board of Education meeting on July 30, divides the school population in half, using the first letter of the student’s last name, so siblings can be on the same schedule. About 50% of the students will be in school four hours a day, for five days, while the other students are remote learning from home. The next week, they switch schedules. The students who are not in school will have small group video, livestream lessons and other interactions over the internet as part of their remote learning experience. As in Plan A, at the end of the four-hour day of in-person learning, all students and teachers will have about an hour break. That will allow students in school to go home and everyone to have lunch, after which there will be virtual meetings, conferencing, supports and interventions.
While at school, social distancing will be followed, when possible, and masks will be worn by everyone. Parents are urged to work with their children to get them used to wearing masks.
The Board of Education will discuss the new plan and details about plans for remote learning at its next virtual Zoom meeting at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 13.
Dr. Varley wrote, “Students in Pre-K, Kindergarten and some Special Education students will follow a different process.” That information will come from Mrs. Corley and Mrs. Gardner soon.
Dr. Varley wrote she is recommending this change “In partnership with our teaching staff and in what we believe is an abundance of caution … We believe our initial recommendation of Plan A provided a balance between academics and safety. In shifting to Plan B, the district is further reducing the level of risk by significantly lowering the number of students in-building at any given time.” The goal is for the district to be able to switch to Plan A, as soon as it is feasible, and then return “to a traditional full day in-person school day. We want to get back to normal as swiftly as possible, but we have to do so safely,” she wrote.
The current school calendar has teachers reporting to school on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 1 and 2. Students will report on Thursday, Sept. 3, and there will be a half-day on Friday, Sept. 4, and on Monday, Sept. 7, school will be closed for Labor Day.
The third option, “Plan C, full remote learning,” could be implemented district-wide if public health data changed statewide or there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the township. Those parents who choose Plan C, all remote learning, now have until Aug. 20, to inform the district. Parents have to fill out forms which can be found here, to enroll their child in the remote learning program. They will not be allowed to return to in-person learning until the next marking period. However, parents may switch their students who are participating in Plan B to Plan C at any time during the marking period. The district has not yet stated if remote learners can take part in in-person extracurricular activities.
More than 400 people attended the July 30 meeting of the school board via Zoom. More than 50 people asked questions of the board, including on how the decision to choose Plan A over Plan B was made.
President of the Berkeley Heights Education Association Dan McGovern told the board he supported “Plan B - the hybrid model of reopening.” He was not alone, some parents and teachers who spoke said they favored Plan B. Supporters of Plan C were many, but it is currently not an option available to the district, said the superintendent.
Related Story: School Board Chooses Plan A For September Opening