During the virtual session, Superintendent Joe Campisi presented the district’s 2020-’21 objectives for the fall and described the difficulties of moving forward as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Gov. Phil Murphy indicated earlier in July that parents can opt to have their child continue remote learning if they fear in-person schooling.
While that right, of course, also extends to parents within Berlin Borough, Campisi said during his presentation that the Berlin Community Schools’ Restart and Reopening Committee, which focused on health and the logistics of returning to school, was able to determine the district can safely bring back all students.
“After a close examination of our building, we have determined that we can bring back 100 percent of students and staff in September for full in-person and on-site teaching and learning,” Campisi said. “But parents, and I can’t stress this enough, do have the option to keep [their] children on remote instruction if they would like.”
Regarding the plan for a return to in-person instruction, Campisi noted the district will utilize all spaces that can be used for instruction, while following numerous health and safety precautions determined by the Restart and Reopening Committee.
“We’re going to utilize every room in the building possible for teaching and learning, which will allow us to spread the student sections out and allow for smaller class sizes, which will help with social distancing,” he added.
According to the plan, teachers and students will bring minimal items to school and pupils will stay in one classroom throughout the day, separated into cohorts to minimize person-to-person interaction.
While students will remain in one setting, teachers will move from classroom to classroom, as appropriate.
The plan calls for student desks to be 4 to 6 feet apart from one another in each direction. Each desk will have a three-sided Plexiglass desk shield for further safety precautions. Students, staff and any visitors to the building will be required to wear a mask or face covering at all times on school grounds.
Regarding health and safety concerns with COVID, Campisi reported that he will work closely with the Camden County Department of Health throughout the school year to address potential positive cases. In the event a student must isolate and or quarantine, the superintendent said students will automatically receive remote instruction until the infected person is cleared to return to the building.
Staff will receive a health screening prior to entering school grounds, while students will also have a temperature and health check prior to boarding a school bus.
Following the presentation and the public portion of its meeting, the board passed the reopening plan by an 8 to 0 vote, with board member Jeffrey Greenberg abstaining.
Greenberg stated before the vote his displeasure with a plan that results in a full return to school during COVID-19.
“While I understand that we are required to approve a reopening plan for this September, I cannot in good conscience support a vote on any state objectives that could in the future lead to increased transmission of COVID-19, or one that may ignore the research of medical professionals in our area,” he said.
“I do want to make clear that I appreciate and commend Dr. Campisi, the Berlin Police Department and the entire [Restart and Reopening Committee) for developing this plan that quite obviously prioritizes the health and safety of all. But I cannot agree with any large-scale return at this time.”
As mandated by the state, the district has also created a Pandemic Response Committee to address any changes necessitated by COVID.
The district’s 41-page reopening plan can be found on its website at www.bcsberlin.org. The presentation shown during the meeting can be found on the agenda under the board of education tab.
Following the board meeting, Campisi said the district will initiate a survey to gain feedback on how many students will remain home for remote instruction at the start of the school year. The surveys are to be filled out by Wednesday, Aug. 5.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug 26.