Board discusses moving to phase 3 of reopening plan

Parents ask about safety measures moving forward and five seniors receive awards for their capstone projects.

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun

The latest Black Horse Pike Regional School District’s Board of Education meeting on March 18 started off with senior students presenting their Capstone Projects for the S.T.E.A.M. Academy that they had been working on since last year.

Special to The Sun: The top five senior S.T.E.A.M. Capstone projects presented their projects at the beginning of the meeting. For their projects, they had to research S.T.E.A.M. related issues and propose a design, structure or strategy to solve that problem. From left to right: Superintendent Brian Repici, Erick Marroquin (Triton), Hailey Delpercio, Ayushi Joshi, and Myrna Kassem. Not featured: Tarek Noiem

It was the first time in a while students were able to see each other and their administration in person. Though one person was absent, the top five winners were invited to speak on their projects and the first place winner, Erick Marroquin (Triton), gave a video demonstration on his Pro-Arm technology, a prosthetic arm he built using a 3D printer and other materials.

Special to The Sun: Triton Regional High School senior Erick Marroquin is awarded first place for his Pro-Arm Technology Capstone project.

The runners up included Myrna Kassem (Timber Creek) in second place for her Power Student productivity app for better focus, Tarek Noiem (Triton) in third place for his Hermes Medical Drone that would help fly blood and organs between hospitals, Hailey Delpercio (Highland) in fourth place for her DrivAR app and augmented reality glasses that help people drive safer by pointing out potential dangers and educating, and Ayushi Joshi (Highland) in fifth place for her AquaGear project that was a filtration system that decreased the amount of fresh water being wasted at home. More information on their projects can be found on their respective school websites.

Following the presentations, the conversation mainly revolved around the school’s decision to move to phase 3 in its reopening plan. The decision to move forward was influenced by the declining number of COVID cases, both regionally and nationally, more people getting vaccinated, and the belief that there’s no replacement for in person learning.

“The regional COVID transmission rates right now are lower than what they were on Jan. 6, and we’ve seen a steady decline, with the exception of this week, of the number of cases and positivity rate,” said Superintendent Brian Repici. “That gives us and the Department of Health a certain level of comfort increasing the number of days and students in school.”

The board plans to start phase 3 of its reopening and remote learning plan on Monday, March 29, which is the beginning of the fourth marking period. The newsletter from March 18 states that the week of March 29 will be a four-day school week, despite the intention to reopen to five days.

Presently, there are two cohorts attending in person school four days a week, on a half-day schedule, with Wednesday as a fully remote day. The new phase will involve combining cohorts and having school open in person for five days a week, still on a half-day schedule. Mondays and Thursdays will cover the odd numbered periods (1, 3, 5, and 7) and Tuesdays and Fridays will cover the even numbered periods (2, 4, 6, and 8). Wednesdays will go through all periods, still on a half day schedule. The presentation (found on the school district’s website) says “this eliminates synchronous, virtual Wednesday instruction … Those students who are remote only would still have to log in to Google every day and view the live-streamed class.”

Though it has been discussed, the school board felt there were too many obstacles presented in a full day schedule at this point in time, the biggest concern being lunch. The plan acknowledges that in some classrooms, it may not be possible to maintain six feet of social distancing. The school district is also working to overcome bussing challenges, and are ordering new safety supplies such as air purification systems and desk barriers.

During the public comment section, there were many questions about the plan from parents. Some of the questions included: “How will the board/school district enforce discipline for students who don’t comply with the mask policy or the social distancing?” “Will teachers be vaccinated?” “How will gym be handled?” “Will graduation be held in person?”

Repici addressed them all. He said that as far as discipline goes, the teachers are doing their best managing both in person and virtual classrooms, and that the administration would be made visible and easily accessible. He felt that suspension would not be a beneficial action, so perhaps there would be a talk with the student and their parents.

The superintendent also reassured parents that the district had been working with Rite Aid, Rowan and Camden County College to get their staff vaccinated. They currently have 184 fully vaccinated staff members, not including those who may have been partially vaccinated or those who have been vaccinated but haven’t reported it. For physical education, they are looking into more outdoor options now that the weather is getting better and broadening the scope of activities. Although discussions about graduation are still ongoing, Repici said they would do everything that they could to have parents attend commencement exercises.

The next BHPRSD Board of Education meeting is scheduled for April 22 in person at Triton Regional High School.