Medford board of education discusses possible return of in-person school

Like others, the district awaits guidance from the state

A parent seeking answers on Medford’s return to in-person schooling as the state continues to ease restrictions caused by COVID-19, a sentiment they expressed at the school board’s June 22 meeting.

“I think now’s the opportunity to take our community to the next level and become the leaders that we are,” parent John Kornick said during the meeting’s public comment. “We have a significant (number) of professionals in this community not just sitting on the board, but as a community.

“If we do a collaborative effort,” he added, “we could find a plan and directive created by us and present it to the state … at the forefront of our opportunity.”

Kornick praised the district’s transition to online instruction, but cautioned against continuing it for the upcoming school year, citing burnout in parents and students alike. He suggested that the board and district no longer wait for guidance from the state, but become proactive on behalf of the community.

As of deadline, Medford and its neighboring districts await regulations from the state departments of education and health on the return of in-person instruction. Kornick listed eight bullet-pointed questions he had for the board, most of which revolved around logistics of the district’s return plan, including meeting learning standards, lessons from virtual instruction and how to keep education equitable.

“Some of us have the ability to offer our child the time and space; some of us can’t,” he shared. “In remote learning, that will continue to be a challenge, even if this district decides to alternate days. I still think you have a challenge trying to provide the level of education and standard we expect of parents in this community.”

Superintendent Joseph DelRossi admitted equality in remote learning is difficult, since not all students learn or retain knowledge the same way, but that other variables in the classroom, such as in-class aids, seating and technology, can help.

DelRossi was cautious about sharing full plans for a return to school because details have not been finalized. The district has instead compiled data, protocol and procedures from Pennsylvania’s school districts and the newly-released guidelines for higher education in New Jersey to help it plan for Medford. District reviews showed possible obstacles the district may face upon reopening.

Decisions on how students and staff can safely return are contingent on health data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), county and state health departments  and the New Jersey Department of Education.

“We realized there has been a disruption to learning to a degree, and there is going to be a loss of learning to a degree,” DelRossi noted.

The district submitted its application for a federal CARES Act grant to purchase educational subscription services for students who have fallen behind during the school closure.

Kornick urged stakeholders, parents, residents and teachers to be the driving forces in district plans, not the New Jersey Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union. DelRossi reassured meeting participants that the board will make the decisions.

“A school is a community and a community is a school,” DelRossi insisted. “It’s obvious when we have the data, we need to come up with a plan for September and late summer, and we’re going to make a recommendation.”

A committee composed of parents, board members and teachers, among others, is something the district has imagined for the near future, when a plan comes to fruition.

Kornick requested the district not wait until September to act, something DelRossi assured him would not be the case.

“We’re going to do something and we’re not going to wait until September,” board President Michael Etter added. “We’re not going to wait until September to plan for education in September.”