A moderated return to business as usual was reflected in the Lenape Regional High School District’s Aug. 26 board meeting as attendees and board members met in-person at Seneca High School’s auditorium.
Attendees to the board meeting were welcomed with signage and disinfecting stations at every turn and a thermal temperature scanner prior to entrance in the physical auditorium. Superintendent Carol Birnbohm emphasized students and staffers will undergo similar screenings when they enter the schools on Sept. 10. New this year will be a unified start time of 7:30 a.m. for all four high schools (Lenape, Cherokee, Shawnee and Seneca). Historically, Shawnee started later than its three sister schools. School ends at 11:55 a.m. with no lunches on school property.
Birnbohm recognized fear about uncertainty will be in many parents’ and teachers’ minds, but it will not hold the district back from opening school. She shared personal experiences with fear following the Columbine, Colorado, 1999 shooting as a teacher, Sept. 11 as an assistant principal and the Sandy Hook Elementary School (Connecticut) shooting as a superintendent.
“I get fear, I understand fear,” she admitted. “The decision to open school then and now are the same. You put the safety protocols in place, you listen to people’s concerns and ideas that you and the team may not have thought of, and implement the ones you can, and open schools because kids need to be in school.”
Updates were displayed on the district’s reopening strategies and implementation tactics. To view the previously-reported plan, visit TheSunpapers.com and search “Operation open LRHSD.”
Changes in the state-approved plan included a requirement for everyone to wear masks on district property, including buses, at least one designated and trained contact tracer in each high school (the person is not a district employee) and heightened Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for school nurses.
Regulations require school nurses to be in a full suit of protection against the virus, which includes an N95 or P100 mask, a surgical mask, eye protectant, disposable gowns and gloves all to be worn prior to contacting a possible COVID-19 positive patient. New Jersey has required all districts to create a quarantine room far away from regular staff where nurses transport a possibly-infected person to before a safe departure from school can be arranged (family or parent pick-up).
Testing and other procedures allowing the person to re-enter the district’s buildings will be handled by the Burlington County Health Department as well as contact tracing.
Leverage will be given to the Burlington County and New Jersey Departments of Health to decide when a school, or the whole district, would need to be closed for quarantine. Birnbohm shared as few as two people could cause a school to close if it was centralized to one activity, classroom or experience. District wide, two people could cause it to close if their professions or participation in sports caused for close contacts to be mixed between schools.
Should the district or a school shift to remote, a second schedule was created for all to follow with four 60-minute classes with a 10 minute period between back-to-back classes. Classes start at 8:30 a.m. in this format and end at 1:15 p.m.
“We just need to teach the ‘why,’” The superintendent shared. “We need to teach about COVID-19, teach our students and staff on why we wear masks and social distancing. In addition to the normal signs you see, there will be ones of teachers saying why they wear their masks.”
Instructors in specialized classrooms focused on speech therapy and other language-related specialties will be provided with windowed masks.
Whichever cohort or instruction format a student is in, they will be mandated to adhere to the schedule and check-in with their teachers online and attend their Google Meets in attire that adheres to the district’s dress code. Further information on the new look of the school year can be found at LRHSD.org.
“The New Jersey opening plan is called ‘The Road Back’ and we had navigated this bumpy road all summer,” Birnbohm detailed. “When we thought we were at the end of this road, Gov. Phil Murphy, three weeks before Labor Day, placed a fork at the end of the road.”
Birnbohm noted the district’s HVAC systems are regularly maintained and receive necessary upgrades when recommended.
Flexibility remained the scope of Birnbohm’s presentation as she revealed the district is working with staffers on childcare and permitting them to be remote until an arrangement can be made, allowing them to leave when students leave and for students to switch to or from remote instruction.
“We are not in the NBA and we are not in the bubble,” she emphasized. “We all need to wear our masks and practice social distancing even after school and on the weekends.”
She encouraged everyone to follow best practices outside of school hours to not spread COVID-19, and discussed the importance of teaching teens why this needs to be followed since just two infected people could close the district.
The board meets next on Sept. 16. The exact location of the meeting is yet to be determined. To learn more details about the meeting and the Aug. 26 presentation, visit LRHSD.org.