HomeCherry Hill NewsCherry Hill schools plan cautious and slow return to school

Cherry Hill schools plan cautious and slow return to school

Health and safety are guiding principles for the district.

The first day of school is less than two weeks away, and as the Cherry Hill Public Schools
prepare for a school year unlike any other, the district has a  carefully planned approach,
according to Superintendent Joseph Meloche.

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“We’re going to be very cautious and slow as we open up the academic year,” Meloche said.

At a board of education meeting on Aug. 25, Meloche once again drove home how the district is creating a safe and clean school environment come September. He said health and safety have always been among the district’s top priorities and continue to drive the reopening plan.

Meloche explained that the district received approximately $740,000 in federal money from the CARES Act, legislation passed by Congress to provide economic aid to school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic. About $241,000 of that money was spent on personal protective equipment (PPE), including medical-grade masks, children’s masks, sneeze guards, shoe coverings, tissues, face shields and disinfectant wipes. The remaining $500,000 was spent on technology, with the district purchasing laptops, Chromebooks and online courses for remote learning.

On the same day as the district’s board meeting, Gov. Phil Murphy presented his revised 2021 budget proposal. Meloche said school districts have been waiting on the plan after the state’s decision to postpone the end of the fiscal year until September. While the district does not yet know the amount of its specific funding, Murphy did announce
that his budget does not include any additional cuts. Meloche said the district already expects to see a $2.4-million reduction in aid this year, so the news that there will not be any additional funding cuts was positive news for the schools.

Meloche said in recent days, there’s been a lot of chatter about MERV (Minimum Efficiency
Reporting Value) numbers that indicate a filter’s ability to capture large particles. He said
community members have reached out and asked that the district install filters that have a
MERV efficiency rating of 12 or 13.

There is currently no guidance from the state or its education department  about a school’s
MERV rating. Meloche explained that many of the schools   have unit ventilators original to each building that can’t support a filter with  either MERV rating. But all filters in the district have been cleaned and maintained. The district will also open windows and doors to maintain circulation wherever and whenever possible during the school day.

As of Aug. 25, the district has heard from more than 90 percent of the school community. About 60 percent of families are opting for the district’s hybrid model of instruction, while 40 percent are choosing all remote.

Anyone attending school in person will be expected to wear a mask. The district website has specific language about what qualifies as a mask, and schools will not permit gaiters or
bandanas in lieu of masks.

The superintendent stressed that the district continues to ask families and staff to practice
building endurance with wearing masks. He acknowledged that acclimating to one covering for long periods can require some adjustment, but the district wants to make sure students and staff are comfortable when they return to school.

Students and staff will see new posters lining school hallways from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) that encourage pupils to wash their hands, maintain 6 feet of
distance from friends, cover coughs and practice other safety measures.
Meloche stressed that now more than ever, the district relies on students and staff to maintain good hygiene practices and to stay home if they’re feeling sick.

“There’s a social contract that exists for the success of society; our public school systems work on this,” Meloche emphasized. “We expect that social contract to be followed, that families take care of their children and that society takes care of one another, especially in a situation like this.”

To view the district’s reopening plan in its entirety, visit https://www.chclc.org/returntolearn.

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