District plans full return to pre-COVID instruction come fall

Administrators eye return to in person instruction for all students.

After a year of learning in all sorts of modules, on all sorts of schedules and in all sorts of places, Moorestown is looking ahead to September and letting parents know the plan is a bit more straightforward for the 2021-2022 school year: full- day, in person learning. 

The district awaits further guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education, but James M. Heiser, its business administrator, and Dr. David Tate, director of special education, presented current plans for September during the May 18 board of education meeting.

While Superintendent Scott McCartney (who was not present at the meeting) will retire come June, Board President Caryn Shaw assured those in attendance that the district administrative team is hard at work on fall plans.

“Planning is underway for a safe return,” she said.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the state health department will ultimately dictate how the district reopens. On May 24, the New Jersey Department of Education will release A Safe Return Plan  template all districts are required to fill out and get approved by the state department of education.

“We don’t know exactly what is in that template, but we do have a pretty good idea because we’ve been down this road,” Tate said.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent announcement that all students will return to in person, full-time instruction come fall means that there will be very few options for remote learning, Tate explained. For that reason, when students return in September, the district plans a return to its “pre-pandemic schedule,” with lower-elementary  students attending from 8:40 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., upper-elementary students attending from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Allen Middle School students attending from 7:35 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Moorestown High School students attending from 7:35 a.m. to 2:39 p.m. 

Although instructional minutes will remain as they were prior to COVID, desks will be spaced 3 feet apart at all levels. Tate said to accommodate that distance at the elementary level, where classes tend to be larger, items have been removed from classrooms and the district is trying to limit class sizes to 22 to 23 students. 

Heiser said from an operational standpoint, one of the big questions has been how to handle lunches, given they were not served this year. As it stands, the district still operates using the guidance that students must remain 6 feet apart while eating. Heiser said should that guidance get updated, officials will update plans with the new guidance. But in light of current requirements, some schools, and the high school in particular, may need to add additional lunch periods to accommodate seating enough students. 

Additionally, certain “large spaces” may need to be used for lunch. Heiser stressed that under the current guidelines, only spaces with dedicated HVAC can be utilized to seat students during lunch. 

Tate said he’s hopeful the district won’t need to deal with quarantine come September, but that it has a contingency plan in place should the situation arise. Any student who needs to quarantine will log into the classroom via Zoom and attend synchronous instruction. Tate specified that option is solely for students needing to quarantine and not those who can’t attend in person instruction due to travel or other reasons. 

He added the district is also prepared to go to fully remote learning should the governor or health department require a shutdown and is ready to make that pivot.

“We’ve learned a lot this year,” Tate acknowledged.

Once the state education department releases the Safe Return template, the district will officially put forth a plan for approval at the school board’s next meeting on June 15.