Monroe Township schools consider reopening Phase 2

Plan includes more students in school and less social distancing

Monroe Township Public School Superintendent Dr. Susan Ficke  announced at a Feb. 18 board of education meeting that the district will proceed to Phase 2 of its reopening plan this month.

Monroe Township is one of the many school districts across the state using a COVID Activity Level Index Report (CALI) to determine the spread of the virus and their ability to move into different phases of reopening plans. The report breaks up the state into six regions and considers three indicators, all with an attached numerical value. The numbers are gathered once a week and averaged to create the district CALI score. 

“As we move to Phase 2, we are not engaging in a knee jerk reaction,” Ficke said. “We are not saying we were in yellow for one week, therefore we are going to move hastily to Phase 2.”

CALI report indicators look at the virus rate per 100,000 cases over a seven day average; the number of COVID like illnesses reported; and the percent positivity rate, defined as an average of total positive tests out of all those conducted throughout the week. 

“This is the report that we have been using to inform and base our directions about return,” Ficke explained. “Last week, we ended up in the moderate rating; this week we are also in the moderate rating.”

The Phase 2 plan includes students who attend school four days a week with a half day schedule, leaving Wednesday as a remote learning day. The plan also combines cohorts to allow for more students physically in school. 

“Our remote Wednesdays still allow us to have small group, virtual meetings,” Ficke noted. “It also allows the child-study team to allow services on Wednesday. At our secondary level, it allows livestreaming instruction for teachers to still meet with all classes in the morning and still have the office hours in the afternoon.”

Surveys were sent to district parents the week of Feb 22 to allow them a ‘voice and choice’ in what path their students take. The surveys will also give the school a better understanding of which students will move into the second phase of reopening and which prefer to stay in or move to an all- remote setting.

“It is critical we have numbers for fully remote students,” Ficke said. “When families commit, we have been very accommodating with students going back and forth. But we are really going to need our families to pick one and adhere to it.”

The number of students who remain fully virtual during the transition will determine the maximum distance for each space. The increased number of students in classrooms leaves less room to keep a 6 foot distance, increasing the potential for close contact. 

“If 6 feet can not be maintained, we will consider facing students in one direction and also consider barriers to be implemented,” Ficke said. “And we are also moving forward with the desk shields.”

The superintendent also explained how transportation would change during the transition. Busing situations will also depend on the number of students who want to be in the hybrid setting and on buses. But she emphasized that the school district does not have enough buses or drivers to keep students socially distanced during rides. 

“Parents can opt to drop their child off, or if they have a bus, masks are required,” Ficke said. “[Students] will be distanced to the maximum extent practicable. It is important our families understand that if you are selecting the four half days, that they may be in close proximity with someone.”

Although Ficke made it clear that those moving to Phase II instruction will be more likely to come in close contact with other students, the district is using mitigation measures to keep them safe. Students will still be required to wear face coverings and participate in diligent hand-washing, cleaning and sanitizing. 

Schools will offer proper ventilation, contact tracing and quarantining. Due to the possible number of students, desk shields will also be installed in the classrooms. 

During the months of March and April, evaluations will be conducted to determine the safety of students and teachers as Phase II is implemented. 

More information can be found on the district website under Touch Base Tuesday.