Editor’s note: The following story has been updated to correctly state students will receive one less hour of school instruction with five days of in person learning, as opposed to one additional hour.
Tensions ran high at the most recent Gloucester Township Public School’s Board of Education meeting on March 22 after Assistant Superintendent Timothy Trow revealed the plan to add Fridays as an in-person learning day. The change came on the heels of the CDC’s updated guidelines on social distancing.
Trow reviewed the results of the most recent parent survey and explained how the board came to their decision to keep the cohorts and alternate on Fridays rather than having students in school five days a week for half days.
Unlike some other school districts in the area that have students in school for four or five half-days, GTPS is operating with two cohorts coming in for full days of school four days a week. Cohort A is in person for Monday and Tuesday, Cohort B is in school for Wednesday and Thursday and Friday is a remote early dismissal day for everyone. Starting April 12, the two cohorts will take turns coming in on Fridays at the beginning of the fourth marking period. The survey results show that more than 70 percent of parents and close to 90 percent of the staff want the district to follow all health and safety guidelines, but the survey took place before the March 19 CDC update on social distancing, which decreases the required social distance in the classroom from six feet to three feet.
Solicitor Dan Long explained to parents and educators in the room that even with the CDC’s new guideline, combining cohorts would make it difficult to keep the six feet of distance outside the classroom—specifically in the transportation systems and in the cafeterias. When parent and Gloucester Township resident Samantha Lysk suggested having half of the students in the class eat lunch while the other remain in the classroom, Long’s response was there wouldn’t be enough supervision to ensure students continue social distancing.
“If the question is ‘are we going to contemplate a switch from full day to half day’ just so we can have the sound bite we’re going in five days, no. We’re not doing that,” Superintendent John Bilodeau responded. “It’s too much of a change for the district.“
He pointed out that some parents already made childcare arrangements. Combining the two cohorts could overwhelm the bus system and the cafeterias, and there wouldn’t be enough staff to supervise the students if they were split into smaller groups. Earlier on, Trow noted that including Friday would receive one less extra hour of class time.
During the public comment portion, multiple parents questioned why they couldn’t overcome the obstacle of transportation like other schools have. Long responded that each school district is in a unique situation.
“Each district is different in terms of distancing, their ability to follow the guidelines, transportation, lunch…” Long continued. “That’s not an apples to apples comparison because it’s ‘how many students per building,’ and ‘is every guideline being followed?’”
The discussion then turned to transportation. Jeff Moore, a parent and resident of Gloucester Township, asked whether or not a new survey would be sent out given the updated guidelines, and whether or not they would consider asking parents to drive their kids to school to free up the bus systems. Lysk joined in, asking why the Black Horse Pike Regional School District was able to overcome the challenge and this district was not?
“You cannot put the onus of transportation on parents when their child has a right to a seat on a bus,” Bilodeau replied.
He went on to explain that the Black Horse Pike Regional School District had some students drive themselves, but in their district, this wasn’t an option. Even if parents volunteered to drive their children, the district would still need to reserve a spot for them on the bus. Since the same buses service the pre-school, elementary schools, middle and high schools, having the buses pick up half the students and returning on a second loop would throw off the four-tier staggered schedule that gets the students to school on time.
The full presentation on the plan to add Fridays can be found on the school district website at https://www.gloucestertownshipschools.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=453508&type=d
In other news:
- The board passed a resolution to rename the “Honors Band of Gloucester Township” to “The Vince Gentless Honors Band of Gloucester Township” in honor of the band’s 25th anniversary. The band is made up of students from across the three middle schools.
“This group would represent Gloucester Township Public Schools at the annual Gloucester Township Day event, and would perform at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, both of which came to fruition as a result of Vince’s strong desire to give our students more opportunities to perform,” Trow said in an email.
- The next board of education meeting will take place on Monday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in person at the Ann A. Mullen Middle School located at 1400 Sicklerville Road, Sicklerville, NJ 08081.