With less than two months remaining before the traditional early September starting date for the 2020-21 school year, Haddonfield School District has warmed to the unenviable task of formulating plans for the resumption of in-person learning across all academic levels.
“We’re working on some very big issues, some serious issues. Some issues that none of us have faced before and hopefully we won’t face again. I took the approach that we needed to get as much feedback and input as possible. This will touch the soul of our community and it’s important,” noted Superintendent Chuck Klaus.
At the moment, district personnel have been instrumental in producing two different drafts of plans to implement in-person learning, presented at the board’s last virtual public session on July 16.
Five separate action teams, comprised of district teachers, staff and administrators as well as community members, will have a hand in preparing a final product. These teams are based around the vital components for successfully organizing and running the district under normal circumstances: Communications, Operations, Social and Emotional Learning, Instruction, along with Health and Wellness.
The dual contingencies were crafted in no small part due to the Return to School family survey, submitted to all district parents earlier in the summer, which drew more than 1,200 responses — approximately 80 percent participation.
Both drafts — one addressing 50 percent student attendance and the other based on 100 percent attendance — are based on federal recommendations that education return to physical school buildings in time for classes to begin.
Due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in New Jersey, the district moved from an in-person mode to a distance learning model, beginning in mid-March and continuing through mid-June.
“This is no-holds barred; we want to hear what you have to say on all the details. We’re going to be as open to feedback (as possible) because of the complete community impact,” Klaus said, but with a caveat included.
“However, these problems are so complex, if anyone tried to talk to all the points, we would get lost and then we wouldn’t get anything done.”
The first model, created on the supposition that all students are eligible to return to school and will elect to do so, will permit the following: all students would attend their respective schools at the same time every day, with virtual instruction in the afternoon; school would begin at its usual time but end on a modified schedule; each school would create designated areas for instruction to immunocompromised students from K-12, and lunches would not be served on site.
The second model, with 50 percent of student attendance plus continued distance learning, would entail the following: K-8 students would attend school every day, with high school attendance limited to two days per week; Haddonfield Memorial High School would run on an A/B block schedule with students divided up by last name; pupils in first through eighth grade would be divided by name and attend school in either the morning or afternoon to cover core subjects; each school would create designated areas for instruction to immunocompromised students from K-12, and lunches would not be served on site.
To address the problem of social-distancing requirements in classrooms with a set number of desks aligned in a specific manner toward a chalkboard or Smart Board, Klaus said the district would look into placing polycarbonate barriers in between desks. The move would be the best way to ensure maximum capacity and maximum safety.
Regardless of planned capacity, all who wish to enter school buildings will be required to observe social-distancing rules and wear masks. The district has purchased 5,000 disposable face coverings for students, purchased N95 masks for nurses, and installed 300 hand-sanitizing stations to ensure the safety and security of all who enter school buildings and classrooms.
Klaus added that neither of the plans were to be considered definitive, and both are expected to undergo continued alterations as the district listens to additional feedback from all concerned shareholders.
“You’ve already shown the willingness to listen, and I think that’s going to be crucial as you further crystallize the plans,” said Board Vice President David Siedell. “Satisfying everyone is an impossibility. Satisfying the needs of the children is the goal.”
Per Klaus, the structural plan for a return to in-person education needs to be in place by Aug. 1, while all the other details to support the structural plan are not due until Sept 1. Therefore, the main responsibility of decision-makers in crafting the final product is to develop a workable plan which effectively takes into account all three criteria in as short a time as possible.
“It’s in our DNA in Haddonfield to push boundaries. The idea of opening fully is an aggressive idea. How am I to know if we could or couldn’t get there, unless we examine it, put the data down, unless we put a plan together first?” added Klaus.
“We couldn’t just assume we couldn’t make things happen.”
Parents and staff are encouraged to offer suggestions via a Google form on the district’s website, which can be accessed at: https://tinyurl.com/y4kzbtff.
Once additional community input is considered and further revisions are made, the final plan for returning to school was to be presented to the board at a special meeting to be held on July 28.
“We’re going to analyze the feedback, we’re going to do trial runs, and we’re going to see what works and what doesn’t work,” Klaus offered.
For a complete breakdown of the methodology behind the district’s planning, as well as the results of the survey, visit: https://haddonfieldschools.org/announcements-and-news-releases/.