Cherry Hill schools on the road back to ‘normalcy’

The district plans a fall return to full in person instruction.

While many families may be ready for an academic break now that the 2020-2021 school year is winding down, Cherry Hill Public Schools’ administrators are still hard at work preparing for a return to five day, in person instruction this September.

“We are definitely on the road back to reinventing and reimagining our schools the way they have always been,” said Dr. Farrah Mahan, assistant superintendent.

Along with Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche, Mahan presented the district’s plans for the 2021-2022 academic year at the June 8 board of education meeting. Meloche emphasized that plans are based on the latest COVID guidance from the state’s education and health departments. He added that should the guidance change between now and September, the district’s plans will change as well.

As of now, students will still be required to wear masks in September. Meloche said Gov. Phil Murphy still has public schools included in the list of settings where masks should continue to be worn, and until that guidance changes, students must wear one  during the academic day.

The district also asks that families continue performing a health screening every morning prior to attending school, a practice Meloche said should be followed not just for COVID but for any illness. He stressed that any student or staff member who is sick for any reason should stay home until well enough to return.

When the district reopens in September, it will continue to provide hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes in every classroom. While tri-fold plastic dividers will not be on every desk, they will be available for families who request them. Meloche said the district  anticipates children will once again have recess where they can use the school’s playground facilities. 

Students will be required to wear a mask and sit in an assigned seat on buses. High- touch areas on the bus will continue to be sanitized between trips, and all buses will be disinfected each night. 

The district will continue to limit the number of visitors allowed in buildings during school hours, and as such, it will utilize both in person and virtual meeting formats for discipline/guidance conferences, assemblies, PTA meetings and other gatherings. As of Sept. 1, outside groups may once again request to use the district’s indoor facilities after school hours. 

All grade levels will return to the pre-pandemic school hours, with kindergarten through fifth grade students attending from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., grades six through eight attending from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and grades nine through 12 attending from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Come fall, the district will once again serve breakfast and lunch. The federal Department of Agriculture is making all students eligible for free meals, and the district is looking at how to roll that out. More specific information about lunches will be sent out to families in August. 

At the elementary level, the district is purchasing exterior canopies to provide covered outdoor areas where students can eat lunch. District officials are eyeing similar options at the middle-school level, as well as other spaces such as classrooms and designated building locations. 

Health and physical education will continue to be taught outside as much as possible. Mahan reminded those at the meeting to ensure students dress weather appropriately. 

The school community can also look forward to a return of in person music instruction,  including instrumental music, vocal classes and theatrical productions. 

“They have definitely been impacted by the pandemic, so we are eager to move forward in this area,” Mahan said of the district’s music programming. 

As of deadline, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association does not have any COVID protocols in place. So the district anticipates that sports will run as usual,  with high-school football beginning on Aug. 9, all other high-school sports starting on Aug. 16 and middle-school sports on Sept. 14.

Registration for fall 2021 extracurricular activities will begin on June 15 for high-school and middle-school activities. Field trips will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as the school year unfolds.

The district will follow up with additional We Return to Learn presentations at its July and August board of education meetings. 

“There may be some changes in terms of masks or playgrounds or other things as we continue to get information from the Department of [Education] and Department of Health,” Meloche noted.