Each school in the Medford district will invite students back for full days on April 26, a step up from the phased in, five half-day schedule that began in March.
Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi announced the change at an April 12 board of education meeting, noting the new schedule was possible because of a change in COVID guidelines. While 6 feet of social distancing was once required, guidelines have been modified to include 3 feet of distance.
More than nine in 10 district students will return in person, according to Del Rossi, though students were still given the option to remain entirely remote. He expressed his hope that all students will return in-person for the 2021- ‘22 school year.
“It’s best for students to be in the classroom with friends, with peers and with teachers. There’s just no substitute for that interaction between teacher and student,” Del Rossi said.
He added that creating a full-day schedule created a new problem: lunch.
Since students will be maskless, the district will have students adhere to a 6 foot social distancing guideline while eating. Each school will use outdoor tents to extend lunch space; students will be given assigned seating; and all meals will be ordered and prepared before lunchtime, eliminating the need for a “lunch line.”
Recess will also look different. The district will require all students to wear masks and sanitize their hands before and after using playground equipment. Staff will also monitor social distancing, according to the district’s Be SQUARE (Speedy Questions and Answers Regarding Education) with Me platform.
Burlington County’s COVID transmission rates have steadily increased since March, according to state data used by the district to make decisions about reopening.
In response to one question on Be SQUARE with Me, asking why school is opening given the statistics, the district responded, “I know it seems sudden. And, quite frankly, it is. But so are all the changes that have been happening over the last several months.
“With the change in guidance from the [Department of Health], and our efforts to get kids back in school as much as possible, along with the stable numbers we have been seeing over the last couple weeks in our own local quarantine and positive case data… (it was decided) that it was best to try and bring students back for full-day instruction,” the answer continued.
The new schedule will be used as a test run for a full reopening in September.
“It’s one thing to put a set of blueprints or plans down and look at a model and say we think that this is going to work,” Del Rossi explained. “It’s another thing to actually have the people within the buildings go through the motions and looking at the challenges and making adjustments.”
Also at the meeting, Del Rossi presented a video touting the district’s recent vaccination clinic, which provided nearly 500 COVID vaccines to area educators and their families.
“We’ve already seen some of the positive effects of our staff being vaccinated,” Director of Educational Support Services Gale Ferraro said in the video. “[Vaccinated staff] do not have to quarantine, so we were able to maintain staff in the buildings, which then increases the consistency of instruction for our students.”
The next board of education meeting will be held on April 26, when there will be a public hearing on the school district’s 2021 -‘22 budget.