Parents question Tabernacle school administration about reopening plans

Board of education also addresses rules in place to prevent COVID-19.

The sign outside of Olson Middle School is dark on Aug. 19, but will soon be illuminated as the first day of school nears in Tabernacle (Sept. 8) with Superintendent-Principal Shaun Banin submits finalized reopening plans to Burlington County and the state. Students will arrive to see signage on proper coughing etiquette, masks and social distancing while teachers craft lessons best for both in person and distance learning (Krystal Nurse/ The Sun).

Questions on student safety and class accessibility consumed public comment and much of Tabernacle School District’s Aug. 17 board of education meeting.

Plans have been approved by the board to start school with a hybrid option whose students will attend classes according to their cohorts, with some days of remote instruction. But mandated masks and social distancing were issues raised by parents at the meeting, as well as the use of disinfectant wipes and maintenance of HVAC systems in preventing COVID-19 infection.

Parent Tobey Realley pondered the effectiveness of HVAC at the district’s two school buildings — Olson Middle and Tabernacle Elementary schools — and whether wipes would be harmful to children. He also asked a number of other questions directed at board President Megan Chamberlain, who requested he email them to the board because of the meeting’s time limit. Superintendent and Principal Shaun Banin answered Realley’s questions after another parent  asked for his queries to be publicized.

“We have wipes we purchased for us because we cannot have certain wipes being used,” Banin noted. “The wipes we’re talking about are the more (isopropyl) alcohol based. “They’re not a high chemical product and that would not require a glove for a student.”

If a parent or student has worries about the effect of wipes, Banin said disposable gloves would be available as well, although supplies are limited.

Air filtration systems in the district adhere to PEOSH (Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health) and IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) standards, with which the district is compliant. Neither of the two agencies’ regulations requires the district to use the MERV 13 HVAC filter, a high-grade filter that was the subject of recent scrutiny by parents and schools in relation to COVID.

“It is something we have investigated,” Banin stated. “ I know there’s been a lot of talk about that and there are concerns with other schools. Depending on how high of a filtration system you put in, you can negatively impact your ventilation. If you put more blockage in, the filter could be hurt.

“The last thing we want to do is to put something in our system that would negatively impact the health and well-being of students and staffers,” he added.

Parent Steve Carbone inquired about how remote learning would be feasible for younger students whose parents work during the day.

“I’m concerned these lessons for small children late at night are going to be difficult,” he admitted. “We’re not going to be around to help them all of the time. Is this something that the school board is thinking of and still looking into?”

Plans are for students to be able to watch recorded lessons after hours on remote days, and for the videos to be a stepping stone for more structured lessons to follow. Discussions have started on a revised teacher schedule so students can seek assistance throughout the school day.

Banin would like teachers to receive and respond to student questions during the day. He opined that it would create a more perfect learning environment, and the district would look into some asynchronous lessons so as not to devalue education for other children.

“We’re trying to make sure we have those videos pre-recorded, so that when you can watch it, you can assist (your child) to do that, and when they come into school, they have that additional help from the teacher as well,” he explained.

Finalized school supply lists will be shared with families in the next several days, as teachers and the district narrow down what needs there will be for the hybrid school year.

Parent Jackie Tomasetti questioned whether snacks and water could be included in a kid’s backpack. Banin replied that mask mandates and the safety of others if a mask is removed would create issues. But students will be able to have a reusable water bottle that can be refilled at stations. The water fountains will be shut off.

A copy of the approved school reopening is available on the district’s website, as well as details for the Sept. 8 board of education meeting, at TabSchools.org. A hybrid schedule is also available for parents.