The first day of school for Cherry Hill students is Sept. 8, but school is going to look vastly different than when students last walked the halls in March.
At the July 14 Cherry Hill Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Joseph Meloche presented the district’s reopening plan. As of Tuesday, the district plans to operate on a hybrid schedule, with students receiving in person instruction two days a week and remote learning for three. Parents also have the option to entirely forego in-person instruction and have their children learn remotely five days a week.
The superintendent stressed that all current plans are solely drafts and subject to change.
“There are no final decisions that have been made,” Meloche said.
The New Jersey Department of Education requires districts to notify communities of their final reopening plan at least 30 days before the start of school, but Cherry Hill hopes to get the finalized plan to parents sooner than the 30-day benchmark.
Melcohe said the ideal scenario is always to have children and staff back together in school, but based on the current realities of COVID-19, the district has focused its attention on limiting the number of students in school at any given time.
Students will be split into two cohorts and will attend in-person instruction with the same cohort two days a week. Melcohe said the goal of that model is to cut the number of students in half on a daily basis.
All self-contained special education classes will meet in school, as well as all English as Second Language courses. School Age Child Care (SACC) will operate, but spots will be limited. Students can only attend SACC on the days they are physically in school.
The district will require all students and any adult in the building to wear a mask at all times, and every classroom and large space will have hand sanitizer. Parents will receive a checklist and are asked to conduct an at-home screening for any COVID-19 symptoms before sending their children to school. Meloche stressed that all families should own a thermometer, and the district will ask that any child with a fever above 100.4 degrees be kept home.
Cherry Hill Public Schools will continue to provide busing, but with new procedures. The bus driver will wear a mask and all students must do the same. Buses will have strict seat assignments, with seating starting at the back of the bus, based on the order in which students are picked up. Anyone living in the same home and attending the same school will be seated together. Buses will be cleaned and disinfected every night.
The district will not allow any visitors or events into schools, including PTA members, assemblies, book drives or other outside entities. The district will not conduct any field trips that involve leaving the school building through at least Feb. 1, 2021. All meetings will be held virtually, including disciplinary, attendance or guidance conferences.
Staff were trained to implement an enhanced district cleaning and disinfectant plan. The district has purchased electrostatic, battery-operated misters that will be used every night to disinfect classrooms and staff will also use cleaning products that specifically target COVID-19.
For families who choose to go entirely remote, their students will still be assigned to a cohort. On days when those cohorts are physically in school, each student will watch a livestream of the class. On the days the child’s cohort is learning remotely, the child will follow the remote instruction activities and lessons.
Parents who choose the entirely remote option are asked to commit until Feb. 1, 2021, to ensure that the district can maintain sufficient transportation, classroom spacing and staffing. Parents can complete paperwork through Genesis for the fully remote option.
Meloche stressed there are a handful of actions parents can take now to prepare children for the school year. He said parents should pick out a school-appropriate mask and have students practice wearing it at home to build up endurance. Parents should also instruct students on good hygiene and proper hand-washing techniques.
The superintendent stressed that parents should talk to their students about the changes in a positive manner
“Children respond to adults,” Meloche advised. “They respond based on our body language. They respond based on our tone. They respond based on words we use.
“It’s incredibly important how we model and what we talk about [to] our kids.”
The district will provide more information about returning to school at its next board meeting on Tuesday, July 28. To view the district’s full draft plan, visit https://www.chclc.org/returntolearn.