“I just want the board and the public to know that the district will plan to adhere to masking requirements articulated by the governor’s executive orders, the department of ed, and the department of health for reopening the district,” Rafferty explained. “We will visit this over the summer as guidance is provided, but we don’t have it right now.”
The Mt. Laurel district is one of nine that sent letters to Gov. Phil Murphy requesting that masks be optional for students come fall rather than required, according to Rafferty.
He then read through the district reopening plan, which, like those of all state districts, had to be filled out and submitted by June 24, per federal requirement.
Reopening plans are laid out as templates for all federal fund recipients, including districts that returned to in person instruction early in the school year.
“Since April and May, all of our students have been back that want to be back for full days, five days a week, daily instruction,” Rafferty noted. “Just so the public is aware of that, in September, we will not have a remote platform, because the governor has rescinded that executive order for remote instruction.”
The reopening plan will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health procedures, such as good hygiene, hand washing and sanitizing in each school building.
Rafferty reiterated that the safe return plan is required because the federal government has disseminated millions of dollars to districts throughout the state to reopen schools, and the Mt. Laurel district has already accepted those funds.
But parents were still uneasy about the current mask mandate for fall. During the public comment portion of the board meeting, multiple parents shared their concerns and suggestions.
Mt. Laurel resident Maria Altieri has a daughter who attends Parkway Elementary School, and she recalled that on Monday, May 17, she was uncomfortable sending her daughter to school because she would be masked in 90 degree weather.
After an email exchange, Rafferty made it clear to Altieri that her daughter would be able to take a socially distant mask break outside.
“Tuesday, I sent my daughter to school letting her know it was okay to take her mask off, take a break, distance yourself,” Altieri explained. “Again that afternoon, I received a call from Parkway school. She had been back to the nurse after recess with heat exhaustion. I asked my daughter why she hadn’t taken a mask break away from other children. She responded that she was not allowed.”
Altieri then sent a mass email to the school’s principal, the teacher involved and the school nurse, encouraging them to let students know they could take a mask break outside, away from other children. Altieri claimed the response she got back was that faculty was unaware the break rule could be implemented.
“How many other kids in our district spent hours in the nurse’s office that week?” Altieri asked. “Do you know that your lack of communication directly affected my child’s well-being?
“I would like to determine what is on or off my child’s face,” she added. “If a parent wants their child to wear a mask, then please do so. Do what you know is right. Make masks optional. Come September, give parents a choice.”
After the public comment portion of the meeting ended, Rafferty went on to explain in depth details of the plan, such as the updated HVDC (high-voltage direct current) and air ventilation system approved in 2018.
The district will still hold proper quarantining procedures and employees will fill out a screening test daily before beginning the school day. The district also will hold an extensive learning acceleration program in place to address the needs of students who experienced learning loss due to the pandemic, and all extended, school-year programs for students with disabilities will go into effect on July 6.
“We have mental-health services built into the summer. We’ve hired nurses, staff, guidance counselors to work in those programs, and social workers and psychologists,” Rafferty revealed.
“Our food services are going to continue according to the Department of Agriculture requirements,” he added. “We’re going to continue that into the fall when we open, all students are receiving lunch and food services.”
School sports will also return in the fall, and students who borrowed technology from the district are allowed to keep it.
“This plan can and probably will be reviewed and revised over the summer, as new information is released by the department of ed, the state of New Jersey and the department of health,” Rafferty noted. “They say that they will be releasing information soon, but that has not been forthcoming, so we do not have that.”
To close the meeting, the superintendent and board members approved the hiring of new personnel, including a fifth grade teacher, two administrators, a curriculum supervisor and a principal.
“It always brings me great anxiety when I lose the principal, because it’s so hard to find high-quality leaders,” Rafferty said. “In the process, which was quite extensive and rigorous … we found Mr. Louis Conti, who is here tonight and will be the next principal of Parkway Elementary School.”
The next board meeting will be held on Aug. 24 at the administrative offices, 330 Mt. Laurel Road. For more information on the safe return to in person learning, go to http://www.mtlaurelschools.org/COVID-19/A-Plan-for-Safe-Return-to-In-Person-Instruction/index.html.