Klaus issues report on school district-wide increase in COVID-19 cases

Social and emotional learning extended from classroom to board of education.

At the Haddonfield school district’s most recent public meeting, Superintendent Chuck Klaus provided a glimpse into the future of returning Haddonfield Memorial High School students to a hybrid educational model, as well as the fate of winter sports given the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases both in the community and throughout the region. 

During the Nov. 19 virtual session, Klaus reiterated the reason for reverting to all-virtual learning until Nov. 30, outlined in a letter to the community issued on Nov. 15, when the district had a rapid number of confirmed positive cases in the high-school-age population in a short period of time.

Klaus’ presentation to the board revealed, as of the day of the meeting, that there have been 37 total positive COVID cases in the district since the start of the school year. Thirty-three of those were labeled active, meaning they had been confirmed within the previous 14 days. Of those 33, 17 were found in the high-school age range; five at Haddonfield Middle School; and two at the elementary level, along with three cases among students learning remotely.

Six staff members also have been confirmed to have COVID: three at Elizabeth Haddon Elementary, two at the middle school and one at Tatem Elementary. 

All told, 277 students from the high school have been quarantined due to either a confirmed positive case or close contact with someone confirmed positive. 

“There became a pressure on the staff to cover the building, which is why we closed the school,” Klaus explained. 

According to a release from the NJSIAA issued just prior to the board meeting, start dates for winter sports have been moved to the other side of the new year. Basketball will be allowed starting Jan. 11, swimming and winter track no earlier than Feb. 1 and wrestling on March 1. 

The organization ruled there will be no more than 15 events per team, per season, and no multi-team gatherings. While the postseason situation is still fluid,  the NJSIAA is considering county-based playoffs. 

The district administration was to join a 1 p.m. emergency meeting with county superintendents and the Camden County Department of Health the day following the board meeting, Nov. 20, to confer and discuss what the sharply rising numbers of confirmed COVID cases will mean for returning high school students and staff to classrooms.

“Our goal is to keep schools open, but the safety for our staff, the safety for our students, the safety for our families who have to do with these things, they’re going to be hard decisions,” Klaus acknowledged.  

“The governor made a comment that the schools are safe, and I believe that. But when I see (numbers) start to increase in the number of high-school kids and middle-school kids, we have to also keep caution in mind.”

Assistant Superintendent Gino Priolo also discussed initial steps in forming a charter for a RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating)-training framework among board of education members. 

RULER is designed for usage in classrooms from kindergarten through eighth grade, but Priolo and Dr. Kristin Leren, co-chair for the district’s social and emotional learning initiatives, want to adapt the philosophy to guide actions and relationships among the nine-member school board. 

“The charter is designed to build and sustain a positive climate that represents pre-applied norms for how all staff members want to feel, as well as what needs to happen when a change to those feelings (is) consistently present,” Priolo stated. 

“It’s a living document that we should always refer to when we come together as a group and work as a board, which reminds us of our ideals in how we work and interact with each other.” 

Leren asked two core questions of board members that revolved around their feelings about work as a board member and what they want to feel as they do that work.  

Suggestions were offered to improve relationships, such as increased eye contact, pausing to listen before offering an opinion or counterargument, embracing a collaborative mindset and limiting time on electronics. 

“SEL (social and emotional learning) is not about everyone trying to be in a good mood, but as adults when we recognize these feelings, we can more accurately work to change them,” Priolo concluded.

For more information regarding the district’s COVID report and for the methodology behind the RULER framework, visit the news section of the district’s website: https://haddonfieldschools.org/announcements-and-news-releases/.