Haddonfield School District is set to begin the 2020-’21 academic year with a hybrid educational model, after the board of education unanimously consented on second reading to a policy regarding its comprehensive Restart and Recovery Plan.
During the Aug. 27 virtual meeting, the governing body approved the district’s nine-page document, which provides guidelines for beginning a combination of in-person and virtual learning as the Sept. 8 reopening date for the borough’s five public schools approaches.
Included in the report are detailed guidelines for transportation, protocols for students and staff who may present COVID-19 symptoms, exceptions to required face covering, cleaning practices for each district facility, mental health support, contact tracing, scheduling and special-education concerns.
The board also passed on first reading a pair of related policies that revolve around contingencies for remote learning.
The first set of guidelines were required by the New Jersey Department of Education, per Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 175 on Aug. 13. The order requires that all school districts return to either full or partial in-person instruction, but it also provides an out for districts that can’t satisfy state mandates for student health and safety.
“I have recommended we continue with the path we’re on,” noted Superintendent Chuck Klaus.
“The spirit of 175 is, if you cannot open, you shouldn’t. But if you can open, you should. I don’t believe we’re there. Our parents believe they want their students to come back.
“We submitted our full plan to the county three weeks ago,” he added, “and the county said we addressed all 40 (minimum standards for in-person instruction) appropriately and we’re ready to go.”
Klaus revealed that to date, the district has spent roughly $231,000 to adequately prepare for the resumption of classes on its target date, with allowances for more funds to address necessary sanitary and air-flow issues.
The second set of plans revolves around protocols for district families who have either already chosen all-virtual learning for their children or who may elect to do so in the future. In a brief presentation, Assistant Superintendent Gino Priolo revealed that, as of Aug, 26, 86 percent of district parents have chosen the hybrid model, with the remaining 14 percent planning on 100-percent virtual learning. Per Priolo, anyone who chooses the latter option is free at any time to reverse the decision and opt for hybrid learning.
Second reading and further public comment on the above policies is expected to occur at the board’s next open virtual session on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. A full listing of the draft policies for public review can be found by visiting: https://boe.haddonfieldschools.org/policies/.
The Haddonfield Education Association issued a statement to Klaus and the board through multiple channels on Aug. 20. The statement expressed dismay that the district is pursuing any type of in-person plan for reopening. The association also expressed displeasure that district teachers are being asked to undertake the herculean task of being both safe and ready for the school year without the benefit of a new contract. The previous pact expired on June 30.
“We realize that this is a situation so difficult that there is no way to make everyone happy. But this shouldn’t be about making people happy. This is about the safety and well being of not only our students, but the 300-plus staff members of these schools that continually go above and beyond for the students and families in Haddonfield,” the statement read.
“We need to start the school year with remote instruction while continuing to work on the health and safety issues we still face. Our students and staff should not be the guinea pigs to see how things go when schools open.”
At the meeting, Board Negotiations Chair Thomas Vecchio offered his take on the situation, saying: “We truly appreciate the work our teachers put in pre-COVID, and now even more so in anticipation of this new challenge. Public contracts under the most normal circumstances are complex and difficult to negotiate. In our case, this had been exacerbated by the current crisis.
“While we have not yet reached an agreement, we very much want a settled contract,” Vecchio added. “We’re hoping for settlement prior to the commencement of the school year, have met remotely with the association six times since March and the board has made several offers during this process.
“We are committed to continuing our efforts to finalize this contract as expeditiously as possible, giving our dedicated teachers what they need, while observing our obligation to our residents.”
Per continuing board policy, Vecchio said there will be no further details on the specific nature of the negotiations.