All New Jersey school districts were required to submit a Safe Return Plan to the New Jersey Department of Education for the 2021-2022 school year, and school Superintendent Joseph Meloche said the Cherry Hill district’s ability to follow federal and state mandates has a direct correlation to funding it receives.
“This Safe Return to Learn Plan is being submitted and being what is needed, predicates on us receiving millions of dollars from the federal government that we desperately need to address some of the physical issues in our buildings,” Meloche said.
The federal American Rescue Plan provides around $122 billion in Elementary- and Secondary-School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to help districts safely reopen schools this fall. The state education department made applications for the funding available as of May 24, and districts must submit a Safe Return Plan to the department by June 24 to be eligible for the money.
At the June 22 board of education meeting, Meloche said Cherry Hill schools will follow the mandates from the New Jersey Department of Health and the Governor’s Executive Order 175, both of which require “universal and correct wearing of masks” this September. Masks are only optional in the case of extreme heat inside or outside school buildings.
Meloche expects there will be updated guidance on mask wearing rolled out this summer. He added that if the state education department changes guidelines, the district will update the plan to reflect that.
Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes will be available in every classroom throughout the 2021-2022 school year, and the district plans to maintain the enhanced cleaning protocols in place during COVID.
The district also will adhere to its air-quality plan, with windows to be open as much as possible and air conditioners run on evenings and weekends to maximize air circulation in school buildings. The district used a prior round of ESSER funds to purchase about 1,000 portable air purifiers that will remain in use throughout the upcoming school year.
School nurses will continue to work with the Camden County Department of Health, and families and staff members are encouraged to screen themselves every day for symptoms of COVID or any other illness. Meloche said health is the utmost priority, and any student or staff member who isn’t feeling well will be encouraged to remain home.
The district’s human resources office ensured that every staff member in the district who wanted a COVID got one. Students 16 and older were offered the opportunity to be bused from Cherry Hill High School East and Cherry Hill High School West to the Burlington County vaccination mega-site. Vaccination clinics also took place at Carusi Middle School and Beck Middle School in May and June, respectively. The human resources department will continue to provide vaccination opportunities in the upcoming school year.
tStudent and staff health are only one part of the equation; the district is making mental-health resources a priority, too, by offering Care Solace, a mental-health concierge service. The website connects students, families and staff with available mental-health providers based on their needs.
Board member Ben Ovadia inquired at the meeting about how insurance will factor into Care Solace’s offerings.
“If you’re not in network, for a lot of these guys, the costs are unbearable for the average Cherry Hill family,” Ovadia said.
Caitlin Mallory, the district’s director of special education, said Care Solace takes into account individual insurance plans as well as those who don’t have access to insurance. She said there are a variety of questions that people will be asked as they navigate the Care Solace portal. The service will guide families all the way through the first visit with a practitioner and ensure their satisfaction, or they will be directed to another doctor or caretaker.
Mallory said in speaking with other districts that utilize Care Solace, she’s heard nothing but positive feedback.
Meanwhile, Board President Laurie Neary asked at the meeting if the district will receive feedback from the state on its reopening plan.
“What is the process they’ve outlined to the district?” she inquired.
Melcohe said as of now, districts are required just to submit plans; the state hasn’t identified whether districts will receive approval.
The Cherry Hill district posted a Google Survey on its website June 18 to solicit the community’s feedback on the reopening plan. As of the June 22 meeting, it had only received 45 responses.
To view the district’s full plan, visit www.chclc.org.