Shamong district officials detail what’s in store for school reopenings

Hybrid learning model will be in place when classes start Sept. 8.

Mask mandates, spaced out schedules and social distancing arrives to the Shamong Township School District as administration and the board of education approve plans to welcome students back to Indian Mills Memorial and elementary schools. Classrooms at IMMS will have desks spaced apart as pictured to further encourage students to maintain a distance. Pictured is a classroom with 12 desks and seats filled are dependent on day, class type and number of students (Christine Vespe/ Special to The Sun).

With an adopted school restart plan in place, the Shamong district’s two leading administrators revealed earlier this month what steps will be taken to safely instruct students.

Like other surrounding school systems, the Shamong Township School District formally adopted its “Restart and Recovery Plan to Reopen Schools” at the board of education’s Aug. 18 meeting.

Some of the adopted mandates include the requirement that everyone in a building must wear masks (those with valves are prohibited) and adhere to the 6-foot social distance rule.

Superintendent Christine Vespe and Business Administrator Laura Archer revealed more minute details of the plan and how its directives will be implemented.

Students following the district’s hybrid model will alternate days in school with remote learning based on their assigned cohorts. Kindergarten, preschool and self-contained special education students will be in school every day. Kindergarten is to be divided into morning or afternoon sessions, based on parent choices. Roughly 84 percent of all parents opted in for hybrid learning come September.

Classrooms will have desks spaced to accommodate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing guidelines. Most of the classrooms at Indian Mills School have 12 desks.

“Even though there’s 12 seats, we may not use all of them, depending on what day it is and what class it is,” Vespe clarified.

Teachers at the elementary school have devised an lighthearted approach to the 6-foot rule using hula hoops. Vespe said children would sit within the hoops and away from each other.

Archer informed the board that bus routes have been adjusted based on transportation survey results from parents. All finalized routes will be the same every day to prevent confusion among parents or students. Information will be sent to parents that requires students to be at bus stops 10 minutes early.

Lunches will be offered to all students, but must be purchased online.

“There will be a Google Sheet that will be provided each week for parents and students to make their selections, and lunch will be delivered to the classrooms prior to dismissal,” Archer explained. “We will only be taking online payments for lunches.”

A custodial staffer was added to clean and sanitize high-touch areas like doors, walls and bathrooms. A May purchase of cleaning supplies allowed the district to avoid a backlog in products.

Funds from the state’s Digital Divide and federal CARES Act grants were used to offset pandemic-related expenses such as purchasing new technology, cleaning supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Archer has started a grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for further assistance.

Students are expected to start their first day of school on Sept. 8, either virtually or in person, depending on cohort and parent selection. Final details on schedules and supplies will be shared with families in the next few weeks. Parents are encouraged to download the district’s app, available on the school website at ShamongSchools.org.

The board of education will meet next on Sept. 15; details are also available on the district’s website.

“(The plan) was very difficult to do and a lot of moving pieces all of the time,” Vespe shared. “I saw this posted: ‘Patience, grace and flexibility.’ That really fits in what we’re trying to do and to keep our children and staff members safe. Have our buildings be a safe place where people want to be.

“I’m very proud of what we have done and put together so far,” she added.

“I feel like we’re setting ourselves up for success in the year and I hope that it continues that way.”