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New policies added during township board of education meeting

School reopening plans with likely updates are in the works

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun

After an unprecedented school year, the Gloucester Township Public Schools are now making preparations for the new year.

Superintendent John Bilodeau started off the school board’s June 28 meeting by thanking staff for their “stick-to-it-ness,” citing parents for negotiating the ebb and flow of a difficult year and praising students for adapting to a year full of surprises. Then, he gave a brief update on  reopening plans.

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“The intent is to bring this school district back online,” Bilodeau said. “There is a lot of work to do to create the plan, and there will be more information coming out. But if you want to know the spirit and intent of where I’m coming from, I’m planning on loosening some of the restrictions that impede full operations.

“We will have different surveys going out to staff and parents alike,” he added, “but it is the intent of the administration to return to full operations in the district.”

Although there is a reopening plan available on the district website, it appears there are more updates to come. A few hours before the meeting, Gov. Phil Murphy announced his recommendations for what schools should do next year. In a Facebook post, he stated: “All schools must prepare to open for full-time, in person instruction. The guidance being released today is to ensure this happens,” and that “masking by students will not be mandatory in school buildings unless their district decides to require mask wearing as part of its own protocols.”

Though Murphy left it up to the school systems to decide on masks, the township district has not yet confirmed whether or not it will require them. Bilodeau shared that the School Reopening Committee was expected to meet on June 29 to discuss the school’s reopening plan. Though there is a plan posted on the district website, it was not presented during the board meeting and will likely be revised before the next meeting.

Also during the meeting, the board added and abolished several policies on second reading. The effects of the pandemic can be seen  through the new Remote Public Board Meetings During a Declared Emergency policy that allows the board to meet remotely, as well as in the updated family leave policy that now includes time off for states of emergency declared by the governor, an epidemic or other public health emergency. The full list of policies can be found at https://www.gloucestertownshipschools.org/ourpages/auto/2021/3/23/55609649/Second%20Reading%206.3%20P%26R.pdf?rnd=1624542160788.

In response to a question by Dina Henry about whether there was a plan in place if the state decides to require 3 feet of social distancing, Solicitor Dan Long said, “I think to the extent that it would prevent full day all day every day, the distancing won’t be a factor based on the document that was released today. It’s ‘do what you have to do to get everybody back.”

Following that question, Henry brought up the fact that there are still buildings without central air conditioning, and she wanted to know if that’s an issue the board would address.

“It’s 2021 now. Don’t you think that all of our classrooms should have central air?” she asked. “So we aren’t having to have half days? … We also had that same issue for the first week of school and the second week of school, where all of a sudden we’re like, ‘Oh geez, Mother Nature decided to put the oven on,’ and now we’re scrambling.”

“It’s wonderful to have conditioned air,” Bilodeau responded, “but I think the difficulty is looking at the price tag to condition the air for, arguably, four weeks a year. People in this town already complain about how much they pay in taxes. If you wanted to put air conditioning in every room in our district, it may be around $40 to $50 million. That would raise your taxes.

“If the school board wanted to do that as a project, it would be a considerable dollar amount, and if there’s not enough funds, you would have to raise the funds through a bond referendum,” the superintendent continued. “And even if we had that, it would probably take at least two years to put air into the building physically.”
The next board of education meeting is July 26 at 5 p.m., at the C.W, Lewis Middle School library.

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