District plans for optional mask when schools reopen

Superintendent advises that plans could change as classes begin

Before going through item agendas at the Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education meeting on July 21, Superintendent ​​Carol L. Birnbohm made announcements regarding a bond referendum and the reopening of schools in the fall.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced on June 28 that masks will not be mandatory in New Jersey’s schools in the upcoming academic year. On July 12, the Lenape district sent a letter to all guardians on Operation Open LRHSD, which described what school will look like in the fall, namely that there will be five full days of in person instruction. 

“There will be no remote instruction this year offered, as the governor wants all kids back in school,” Birnbohm said. 

The schedule for the new year will include hot and cold “grab and go” free lunches for all students, at no cost to the district, as well as sports and extracurricular activities. 

As for health and safety measures in the classroom, masks will be optional for all students and staff, but encouraged for those who are unvaccinated. Each classroom will accommodate all students registered for the class and desks will remain 3 feet apart.

“The desks will all be facing forward, so this will help us with contact tracing for the nurses,” Birnbohm noted.   

Certain academic changes from last year will remain in place: Each student will receive a Chromebook and there will be additional support staff in the classroom. 

“We’re going to utilize some of the federal funding that’s coming to us to add tutoring sessions, after-school sessions and mental-health support,” Birnbohm explained. “Any student who needs access to Wi-Fi in their home will be given a hotspot and all of our teachers will still be using Google Classroom.” 

Birnbohm reminded the board and public that if there is a positive COVID case, the district will update its weekly dashboard on the website and notify via email and phone individuals who are in close contact with the infected person. If someone does identify as a close contact and is unvaccinated, he or she will be excluded from school for a period of seven to 14 days, with supplemental instruction provided by Google Classroom.   

“Those students will also be excluded from band, cheerleading and athletics and any extracurricular activities for that period of time,” Birnbohm said. “The moral of the story is to encourage as many people to get vaccinated as possible, because our goal is not to have any more interruptions to education.”

The superintendent then gave an update on the Lenape bond referendum, a plan to update and enhance district schools that is set for a public vote on Nov. 2. 

“We’ve been waiting for the New Jersey Department of Education to complete its review of our bond proposal,” Birnbohm revealed. “The department of education completed its review and verified that our projects qualify for more state aid than we originally projected. In fact, the state will now cover one-third of the cost of our entire project.”  

With the potential for state aid, the Lenape district will be able to improve schools with only a near-zero property tax increase. 

In other news:

  • The school board approved the deletion of the remote-learning option in the 2021-’22 school year.
  • The group counseling services of a school psychologist or private counselor will be allowed in the new year.
  • Cherokee High School NJROTC will be allowed to participate in competitions during the academic year.
  • The board approved Rothman Orthopaedics as the sports medicine provider for the district’s athletic programs.
  • No student athletes will be penalized for not attending practice on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September. 
  • The board approved Shawnee High School’s senior trip to Disney World on March 23 to 26. 

As a reminder to the board and public, Birnbohm explained the plans she had just outlined are subject to change, since Murphy promised to announce new guidance at the start of the school year. 

The next Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education meeting will be held on Aug. 25 at K. Kiki Konstantinos Administration and Staff Development Center, 93 Willow Grove Road, at 7:30 p.m.