Medford schools provide plan for increased in person instruction

Parents at meeting say the plan is incomplete

Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi addresses attendees while holding a sign that reads ‘Bring our students back full time or get voted out’ at a March 1 Board of Education meeting (Alyssa Biederman/The Sun).

The Medford Township School District wants to bring students back for five day instruction by April 26. Parents say it isn’t enough.

At a board of education meeting on March 1, Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi presented a plan for students to return to school five days, but only under certain conditions. The region must experience a four-to-six-week downward trend in COVID cases and reduction of social distancing guidelines before the plan can  be implemented. The plan did not address if the return would be half or full days.

“I call it increased instruction, because I’m not going to show my hand,” Del Rossi said.

Parent Ria Jernberg told the board she recently opted to have her children leave Medford schools.

“You say that you’re not going to show your hands,” Jernberg said. “You’re not playing poker, you’re affecting our children’s lives, all of you, and your decisions.”

Del Rossi and Assistant Superintendent Keira Scussa, administrative director of educational programming and planning, presented findings from the district’s reopening committee, made up of parents, business owners, teachers and other members of the community. The committee determined that school reopening must be balanced with student and staff safety.

Jeff Sallade, who spoke at the meeting, said he is a member of the reopening committee and did not contribute to the plan presented.

One parent, Karen Kussy, told the board she thought the plan was half-baked.

“All these parents, I think, are extremely upset with this plan as it stands today,” she said. “There’s just not enough detail in it. It was a framework for a plan at best.”

Several parents who spoke were concerned about the four-to-six-week trend requirement, claiming that if students waited that long, the school year would be over. 

Scussa told the board the district would provide summer enrichment programs for struggling students, including special education and English-language learners. By March 15, she said, all teachers will be required to livestream to virtual students at least once a day.

Scussa added that the district would provide a public dashboard to trace the “metrics” officials are considering before bringing students back five days a week.

Nearly 200 members of the public attended the meeting. Most attendees tuned in on Zoom, used after the meeting was rescheduled the week prior due to an inability to fit audience members in the gymnasium where meetings are usually held. 

Del Rossi addressed the audience directly, defending board of education members he claims were called “cowards” for not entering the gymnasium before the Feb. 22 meeting was canceled. 

“Believe me, no one’s a coward here,” he said, carrying a pink sign that read, “Bring our students back or get voted out.” No one is afraid to face 150 people. We welcome the discourse if they disagree or they have questions.”

Kevin Ford said the meeting was “insulting from the start of Dr. Del Rossi’s speech.”

The board will meet again on March 15 to present plans for the 2021-’22 budget.