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Students return to classrooms

Mayor James Davis (left with suit), Business Administrator Dan Castles (center) and Superintendent of Schools John Niesz (right) greet students at Bayonne High School on their return to classrooms on May 3.
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Mayor James Davis (left with suit), Business Administrator Dan Castles (center) and Superintendent of Schools John Niesz (right) greet students at Bayonne High School on their return to classrooms on May 3.

The Bayonne School District has shifted from virtual instruction to hybrid instruction. Students had the option to remain under virtual instruction through Schoology or to return to the classroom under a hybrid model.

“It’s a great day in Bayonne,” Mayor James Davis said as schools reopened on May 3.

According to Superintendent of Schools John Niesz, approximately 40 percent of students chose the hybrid route. Students who opted to do so reentered the classroom for the first time since March of 2020, when the district shifted to virtual instruction due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the return, the district reassessed its instruction plan monthly, choosing to stay virtually for most of the year. In March, the district announced that it would shift to hybrid instruction after a number of teachers were vaccinated, and renovations on school buildings were completed. And while students are now back in classrooms, school life is nothing like what it was last year.

Split in two

Students who opted for hybrid instruction have been divided into two groups, Cohort A and Cohort B. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Cohort A reports to school buildings. On those days, Cohort B is virtual. All students and faculty are virtual on Wednesdays as buildings are thoroughly disinfected. On Thursdays and Fridays, Cohort B reports to school buildings. On those days, Cohort A is virtual. Students who opted for remote instruction will remain remote until the end of the school year. The student schedule will be the same every week.

On entering school buildings, students and staff answer questions regarding their health and get a temperature check using noncontact thermometers and or thermal imaging. Anyone registering 100.4 degrees or higher is not allowed in the building. Students and staff must complete a COVID-19 pre-screening checklist before heading to school.

A day in school

Social distancing is key. Desks are six feet apart, with three-sided clear partitions on each desk. Alternate spaces can be used as classrooms to maintain social distancing.

Movement in buildings is limited. Assemblies are either cancelled or held virtually. Rooms with multiple doors have a designated entry and exit. Classes in community schools stay in the same room all day, and the teachers rotate. At the high school, students rotate normally. Signage and floor decals provide visual cues to maintain social distancing. 

Masks are mandatory, either surgical or cloth. They can be removed when alone in a restroom with the door closed or during meals as long as social distancing is maintained. The only exemptions are for certain health reasons. Clear mouthpiece masks are available for communication with the hearing impaired.

Cleaning and counseling

Buildings will be sanitized throughout the day. Custodial staff has a checklist of cleaning requirements. Hand sanitizer is in every classroom. Reminders to wash hands daily are posted, and bathrooms are disinfected.

The district will address stress and anxiety caused by long-term school closure and social isolation. There will be daily check-ins with students by social workers and counselors; individual and group counseling; mental health resources; Social Emotional Learning interventions; and staff reaching out to students and families who have not been fully engaged.

School hours will be the same as during the 2020-2021 year. No visitors will be allowed, and no field trips, unless virtual.

Moving forward

According to Niesz, the district could shift to completely in-person instruction, five days a week, starting on June 1. But COVID-19 outbreaks must be kept at bay in May. 

Niesz said that though members of the JV baseball team had recently tested positive, he doesn’t foresee the district closing again in the future. According to Niesz, facts will determine what buildings will be closed, whether that be the classroom, the floor of a building, an entire grade level, or entire cohort. Contact tracing will be used to make that determination.

The teachers union signaled it was on board with the return to classrooms. Bayonne Education Association President Gene Woods said that starting the year with virtual instruction was the right option for the safety of staff and students. Following precautions taken and a walk-through by principals, custodial staff and other BEA members, many teachers’ and others’ concerns were addressed, and they were ready to continue to work with the district under hybrid instruction.

What happens in September?

When it comes to the 2021-2022 school year, Niesz said the district is planning for a number of scenarios, including completely in-person instruction.

“The governor has issued an edict saying we are coming back to school next year,” Niesz said. “I’m optimistic that will happen. With all the precautions and everything we’ve done, I believe we can do that as safely as possible. I hope this return is indicative of that, and we can combat these outbreaks.”

Niesz also addressed the possibility of new schools in the district. He said the district is always looking to expand and address many of its aging buildings.

Now back in classrooms, teachers face the challenge of instructing students both in class and those learning virtually.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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