I’s dotted, T’s crossed as Tabernacle prepares for school reopening

Meeting with Mercer officials offers strategies as plans take shape

Weeks following the state Department of Education’s release of the 104-page “Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan,” area districts have scrambled to develop sound reopening plans for schools this fall.

Tabernacle has organized committees with Superintendent Shaun Banin, assistant principals, staff, parents and other stakeholders in the community to create the safest plan possible after four months of virtual education.

At the board’s July 20 meeting, Banin said he intended to release the district’s plan on Aug. 3, the same one proposed to the NJDOE and the Burlington County Health Department.

“(Gov. Phil Murphy) did confirm something that was our interpretation from the ‘Road Back,’ but it’s nice to have him clearly state this: that parents can have a virtual option,” Banin noted.

“We’re working very hard and I want to thank all of the parents and staff who volunteered their time to help us on this.”

Districts are responsible for providing a 100-percent virtual program to parents who don’t want their children in school because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The state offered no other clarification on how the option would be developed and the requirements of districts.

Tabernacle board member Victoria Shoemaker, liaison to the Burlington County School Boards Association, noted that a joint meeting was held with Mercer County delegations for a PowerPoint presentation by David Aderhold, superintendent of the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. It advised district funding could be awarded around Aug. 25.

The economic downturn from the pandemic could delay September funding as the state determines its financial losses and seeks out loans to stay afloat. Murphy’s office announced on July 16 that the governor had signed the New Jersey COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act to borrow up to $9.9 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserves.

Bonds could be issued at a total of $2.7 billion for the extended fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, with $7.2 billion for the nine-month 2021 fiscal year that starts Oct 1. Another option is to issue general obligation bonds and sell them through investors. Debts would be repaid through New Jersey’s general fund balance.

“Our unemployment numbers and drop in revenue have both far outpaced the worst months of the Great Recession, so while we see this bill as an important step, our ultimate recovery will depend on a number of factors, including additional federal aid and savings within the state government,” Murphy said in a press release.

Shoemaker noted if the state mandates that all children and staff wear masks inside school buildings, the resulting costs would fall under an unfunded mandate, as districts would be responsible for funding those masks.

A concern brought up in Adherhold’s presentation was the decision on whether or not to send kids home from school if they are ill with possible COVID symptoms.

“Dealing with children, a stomach ache could be, ‘I don’t like that subject or what’s happening at school that day,'” Shoemaker said. “When I taught, I had a little girl who put her hand up to see the nurse when I would hand out a math test. That’s something we need to look into and maybe get guidance from our nurses and physicians as to when we actually send children home.”

No action was taken on reopening plans. The school board holds its next meeting Aug. 3 at 6 p.m. Details on accessing the meeting can be found by visiting TabSchools.org.