With New Jersey stalled in Phase 2 of reopening due to an increased rate of Coronavirus transmission, school districts across the state are scrambling to put make plans for the upcoming school year.
The Bayonne Board of Education has voted to adopt a resolution to continue virtual-only instruction.
According to Superintendent of Schools John Niesz, Bayonne is the first school district to submit a virtual-only plan.
Because Gov. Phil Murphy and the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) haven’t approved virtual-only instruction, the district needs to have other options.
Upon Niesz’s recommendation, the BBOED adopted two other plans.
The second plan calls for hybrid instruction, with three groups of students rotating into the classroom two days a week. The third option plans for “all-in” instruction where students would return to school five days a week, adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“The Bayonne School District waits to see if our virtual plan will be approved by the NJDOE,” Niesz said. “The virtual plan may not be approved. However, we believe this plan is the safest course for all of our students, their families, our community, and our employees.”
If the virtual-only plan is not approved, the district will then go with the hybrid plan.
The third “all-in” plan, if COVID-19 drastically improves or is eradicated, is very unlikely, according to Niesz.
Under this plan, students would learn remotely with no in-person instruction.
An online learning system called Schoology.com works for all grades with iPads and Chromebooks.
Teachers would teach live sessions from either their classroom at school or at home. Grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for students would continue.
Monthly assessments by the district would determine whether or not to continue with virtual-only instruction.
The board voted 7-1 in favor of virtual-only instruction.
The only “no” vote came from Trustee Joseph Broderick, who argued that students need to be in the classroom to learn and that if Six Flags Great Adventure and WalMart are open, then schools could open too.
President Maria Valado said that virtual learning puts the health and safety of students, staff, family, and others first.
Michael Alonso was the only absent trustee. He did not vote on any of the plans.
The board also passed a plan for hybrid instruction.
A combination of in-person and virtual instruction, the plan would follow “A,B,C” schedule, breaking students up into three groups that would rotate every two days.
The first two days, the “A” group would be in schools. The “B” group would be in classrooms next, followed by the “C” group. The groups not in the classrooms would receive virtual instruction.
The four-hour days would include grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches.
The board voted 7-1 to approve the hybrid plan as a secondary option.
Trustee Ava Finnerty voted against the measure, noting it’s too soon to have any in-person classes considering the state of the pandemic. Trustee Broderick voted in favor of the plan.
The board also adopted the final plan. Under the all-in plan, students would go back to school five days a week, adhering to CDC guidelines.
Four-hours days would include grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches.
“There is a possibility that we can return to school if some students opt for virtual school,” Niesz said. All-in “would allow schools to open daily while safely social distancing with fewer students physically in the buildings.”
Students can opt out of in-person instruction, as a result of Gov. Murphy’s executive order. Niesz said that the “all-in” plan would rely on students opting out of in-person instruction in order to social distance in classrooms and follow CDC guidelines.
The board approved the plan by a vote 6-2, with Trustees Finnerty and President Valado voting against the measure.
Difficulties of reopening
At the meeting, Niesz detailed the down sides of the hybrid and all-in plans.
Prior to the pandemic, the average classroom size was approximately 28 students. Now, with social distancing, the average classroom size would need to be about nine.
Another issue is transportation. According to Niesz, a bus that held about 71 passengers prior to the pandemic now can hold only about eight, which will make it hard for kids to get to school on time.
A readiness drill took about 16 minutes for some 30 people to enter the school going through metal detectors and temperature screening.
Hallway lanes would need to be configured, with indicators on the floors and walls. Some hallways and staircases would be one way, with monitors.
Plexigless would be installed in front of teachers’ desks and at all entrances.
At the meeting, residents spoke mostly in favor of the virtual-only and hybrid plans.
Bayonne Teachers Association President Gene Woods favored the virtual-only plan, lobbing question after question regarding opening schools.
Valado asked Woods, who’d been speaking for more than an hour, to allow other residents to speak.
Woods refused, continuing to assail the board. “What number are you comfortable with?” Woods asked, referring to the number of students and staff who could get infected and die from the virus during in-person instruction. “For me, it’s zero.”
Many teachers emailed the board, saying that it is still too dangerous to resume any type of in-person instruction.
Anthony D’Amico spoke in favor of the hybrid plan, noting that some students did not have a good experience with virtual learning last semester.
The virtual-only plan will be presented to Gov. Murphy and the NJDOE.
The finalized plan will be announced by August 4. The next BBOED meeting is on August 24 at 6 p.m.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.