Board of education addresses new school schedule

The Washington Township Board of Education was bombarded during the public comment section of its Feb. 23 meeting by parents who begged members to let students return to school.

After a reopening update was announced at the board’s Feb. 16 work session, parents shared their frustrations about struggling students. 

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done and time that needs to be put into place in order to do it,” said Joseph Bollendorf, superintendent of schools. “But we are getting there, and all of the folks that are involved in this process are on board, and we are continuing to meet on a daily basis. Things are being ordered and we are excited.”

Starting on March 1, the district will observe the same hybrid schedule, with cohorts A and B coming in every other Wednesday. Cohort C will  come in five days a week, and the district hopes to expand that five-day-a week schedule to include other students. 

“I have said it before: I have a student in every single level. You want a parent perspective? You elected it; we are sitting right here,” said Board President Julie Kozempel. “We have been very clear that we want the kids back in school. We share a lot of your opinions that this is not healthy for kids to have them sitting in front of the computer. Any parents are going to tell you that.

“We want our kids back in school,” she added. “What we should be doing is supporting each other in this unprecedented time with the pandemic.” 

According to Bollendorf, there are many reasons why students have not moved back to a fully in person schedule.

“Logistically, a lot of things need to be done,” he explained. “PPE (personal protective equipment) needs to be ordered. Plastic barricades need to come in, and (there are) additional cleaning supplies and additional things that will now need to be cleaned, like the barriers … 

“We need time to pull the desks back from where we stored them,” he added. “The furniture in the rooms right now are only reflective of the cohorts sizes that are coming in. If we are combining cohorts and bringing those kids in, we need to reconfigure our rooms.” 

Parents continued to call out the district and compare it to certain Catholic school districts and others in neighboring states that have combined cohorts and returned their students to school. 

“In a private school or Cathlic school, whatever the case may be, they set the standard on how they operate,” Bollendorf noted. “The fact that they were able to bring kids in and not adhere to the 6-foot social distancing that was being recommended by New Jersey Department of Health and the CDC at that time, people get to make a choice whether or not they are going to sign up for that and put their children in that environment.

“As a public entity, we really have to adhere to the guidelines that we are given.” 

The board announced that to get students back to school, it had collaborated on and unanimously voted for a resolution that was to be sent to Gov. Phil Murphy requesting that he consider teachers and school faculty as front-line workers so they can receive vaccinations.

The rest of the resolution maintained that teachers are a critical part of the community and have a profound impact on millions of students and families. It also suggested adverse effects that may occur with students being home from school, in both academics and their social and emotional health. 

In other news:

  • School nurses were recognized for their continued efforts to keep students and staff safe and well-informed during the ongoing pandemic. They will be awarded with gift cards from the Education Foundation as well as certificates.
  • Bells Elementary School teacher James Cho was recognized for being named the 2021 New Jersey Council for Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year.
  • A presentation was given by students and staff on diversity and inclusion at Bunker Hill Middle School.