Board of education accepts Haddonfield district’s proposal for in-person school

Administrators aim for hybrid education model and add contingency plans.

At a special open public meeting on July 28, Haddonfield’s board of education took the first step toward accepting the school district’s finalized plan for in-person education in the next academic year.

During the virtual session of four-plus hours, the board, upon first reading,  unanimously gave consent to the Restart and Recovery Plan. Presented by school Superintendent Chuck Klaus, the three-pronged plan represented the culmination of weeks of discussion, collaboration and constant revision, based on input from students, staff, district parents and administrators. 

“It’s been 137 days; that’s how long it’s been since a student has been physically educated in a school building,” Klaus intoned. “This is tragic. There’s no other way to state it. We have to acknowledge it and give it credence.

“Forty-two days from today, we plan to open schools, and decisions have to be made,” he added. “Decisions that, frankly, not everybody will agree with. But that’s where we are.”

Klaus said the district focused on four core principles to guide the decision-making process: ensure the safety and wellness of students, staff and community at large; deliver high-quality instruction regardless of delivery model; optimize the use of all resources; and engage the community and stakeholders in final plan development. 

“As I sit here talking tonight, with more than three decades of experience in education, this will be the most significant decision I’ve made,” the superintendent continued. 

“We understand this is such an impactful decision. It didn’t come easy. We all feel the loss of school. But knowing we’re not going to return like normal, it stings.”

The district plans to return for the first day of school, Sept. 8, with a hybrid education model, the first phase of a three-phase progression based upon splitting up students alphabetically. For parents who wish to keep their child at home, the district included a 100-percent virtual instruction model. Should state or county decision makers opt to close schools at any point, the district also has a separate game plan for 100-percent virtual learning at all three educational levels. 

Questions from the public, which will be addressed separately from the meeting, ranged from inquiring about contingency plans for extending the school day if a large number of students opt out of attending in person, how the district will handle a student who tests positive for COVID-19, how could parents get around the definitive decision on their child’s attendance given how fluid the situation remains, and what happens to students who need help beyond established teaching hours.

Public critique centered around the significant reduction of instructional hours for in-school construction touted in the hybrid educational plan, and additional dissenting voices decried the inclusion of all-virtual education as a waste of taxpayer money for the high quality instruction Haddonfield offers.

“The sands of the hourglass are shifting constantly beneath our feet,” noted Board Vice President David Siedell. “I’m pretty confident the plan the district put in front of us, we can sustain.”

Praise from the public arrived from those lauding the district’s overarching concern for the health and safety of all, even at the expense of daily personal interaction.

“No one is confident that this won’t change before September. We’re trying to arrive at a starting point, knowing that we could change before we get to a starting point, or change after we begin,” noted Board President Adam Sangillo. 

“I do want to acknowledge the administration has been working hard with a moving target, getting new information all the time, which makes it very difficult to plan.”

On July 29, the morning following the meeting, the district sent out a pamphlet outlining the three options, as well as an electronic form, to all parents, who will be required to indicate if they would not be sending their child(ren) to school for the preferred hybrid learning model. The form was due by Aug. 3. 

The approved plans will be submitted to the County Superintendent’s office for review and given back to the district for further revision. Another iteration is expected to be introduced for second reading and additional public comment at the board’s next regularly scheduled open public meeting, slated for Aug. 27. 

A 24-page document outlining the specifics of all three contingencies can be found in a link at the top left of the district’s website: https://haddonfieldschools.org/.

In other news

  • Upon second reading, the board gave its consent to approving Policy 1649, the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a new code which will provide district employees with paid sick leave for reasons specifically due to COVID-19. 
  • The board approved the installation of former Elizabeth Haddon Elementary School principal J. Craig Ogelby as interim principal of the school, lasting from Sept. 1 through Oct. 4. The move was necessary since current Principal Gerry Bissinger will be taking family leave in anticipation of the birth of his third child. 
  • Board Secretary Michael Catalano revealed the district would face a state-aid deficit of $180,481 in the coming academic year. To make up the difference, the nine-member body approved the withdrawal of the same amount of funds from the Maintenance Reserve Account to cover budgeted required maintenance costs.