At a virtual meeting just five days before the official start of school, Haddonfield’s board of education approved on second reading a pair of policies related to possible remote learning for the academic year.
The policy additions, discussed at the board’s previous public session on Aug. 27, deal with students who have chosen the all-virtual option, as well as the district’s plan for full-time virtual instruction should COVID-19 cause an interruption after classes begin on Sept. 8.
The latter and most significant policy was added per a requirement by the New Jersey Department of Education, an edict that stemmed from Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 175 on Aug. 13. The order mandated that all school districts return to either full or partial in-person instruction, but it also provided an out for districts that couldn’t satisfy state mandates for student health and safety.
Haddonfield schools are expected to proceed with a hybrid education model in which district educators are asked to juggle multiple responsibilities with simultaneous in-person and virtual lesson planning considerations.
“In essence, what they’re going to be doing is running a class, teaching a class, operating two devices, and being in Google Meet all at the same time. It really is a tricky, challenging thing,” said Superintendent Chuck Klaus.
“We need to appreciate the difficult thought process that teachers are going through as they’re trying to coordinate. The first week’s going to be interesting. But (I ask) some patience as we move forward.”
Some district educators about to head back to school have had to learn, in short order, how to teach both in classroom and virtually, and they remain unconvinced their employers have put them in the best possible position to continue.
During public comment, Jessica Fingerman, a special education teacher at Haddonfield Memorial High School as well as the teacher’s union representative there, voiced concerns on behalf of teachers and students.
Her complaint revolved around the nature of ventilation and issues with air flow in the aging school building, along with a request that the district purchase HEPA air purifiers whose filters are small enough to block aerosolized coronavirus particles.
In prepared remarks, she stated: “There is still much we are learning about COVID-19.
However, the data and guidance you have recommends access to fresh air. We have a moral obligation to our students to protect them. I cannot, in good conscience say that we are doing everything in our power to mitigate risk.
“We have to work together to mitigate the threat of coronavirus,” Fingerman added. “And I hope the board will hear us and work with us on our behalf and on the behalf of students in Haddonfield public schools.”
Klaus responded that district maintenance crews are doing their best under tight deadlines and are facing the needs of older, customized frameworks to improve conditions across all district buildings.
“The windows are older, and many of them have not been open for decades,” he said. “One of the challenges is, they are old windows and they are custom windows, and we just can’t go to Home Depot to purchase replacement parts or to buy screens.
“In terms of the HEPA filters, we reached out to our doctor about advice on that,” Klaus continued. “She conferred with an infectious disease specialist at Jefferson (Hospital), who said that was not a place to invest money, so we did not. Gino (Assistant Superintendent Priolo)’s going to look into it, and if we find it’s effective, we’ll get filters for those places.”
For access to all district educational policies, including the most recent ones under review, visit https://boe.haddonfieldschools.org/policies/.
In other news:
- Klaus confirmed that the Student Resource Officer for HMHS will be Melissa Young, who assumed the role at the outset of the previous school year. Her hours, and as a result her pay, are expected to be reduced due to the reduction in the number of hours the school will be open under the district’s current hybrid plan.
- The next public board meeting, expected to be online, will be Sept. 24.