Voorhees schools move to remote learning

Staffing issues, COVID cases cause problems across township

As a second wave of COVID-19 cases hits Camden County, some of its school districts are reverting to remote-only instruction because of staffing issues and the need for students to quarantine.

The Eastern Camden County Regional School District sent out a communication to parents on Nov. 15 notifying them that the district would move to 100-percent remote instruction for general and special education programs starting Monday, Nov. 16, citing an increase in community COVID cases that require full consultation with the Camden County Department of Health.

According to the communication, multiple positive cases caused 12 staff members and 67 students to quarantine. At that time, the district and county were also investigating five additional reports of cases among staff and students.

Superintendent Robert Cloutier said in an interview with The Sun that the morning following the communication to parents, the district was notified by the county health department that the positive cases did not result in  Eastern being designated as having a “school outbreak.”

“The good news is that there were not enough cases that were positive that were on campus … so we were not a school outbreak under the definition,” Cloutier explained. “However, quite honestly, most of the issues we’ve been having (at Eastern) are with people having household spreads … We reached a tipping point where too many staff members had to quarantine, which is the second time we’ve had to make that move.”

According to the superintendent, classroom instruction is currently anticipated to operate under the district’s Phase I plan until Friday, Dec. 4; the district plans a return to on-campus instruction starting Monday, Dec. 7.

In the parental communication, the district again confirmed “decreased staffing levels and the number of students required to quarantine as a result of positive test results or “close contact designation” were reasons  for reverting to the Phase I plan. Cases being investigated as of the date of the parental communication are not expected to affect a return to on-campus instruction next month.

Meanwhile, Voorhees Township Public Schools notified parents on Nov. 16  of a shift to remote-only learning starting Monday, Nov. 23. A return to in-person learning is tentatively planned for Monday, Jan. 4.

“The current rise in positive cases of COVID-19 in Camden County has placed a severe strain on our ability to keep our hybrid offering open,” said Superintendent David Gentile in the parental communication. “I have previously reported that our preventative measures have been successful in reducing exposure while at school. All of our reported positive COVID-19 cases appear to have been contracted outside of school. However, as this pandemic continues to spread, we have needed to quarantine students and staff alike.

“In most cases, when our staff members test positive, they can still teach their students remotely,” the superintendent added. “But we need to place a certified substitute in their absence for the hybrid students. We have reached a point where doing so has become extremely difficult.”

The school district also was informed by the county health department that rising cases are expected in the coming weeks due to the holiday and winter break, potentially affecting in-person or hybrid learning plans.