District continues to feel its way as in person instruction returns

Issues remain with meals, transportation and quarantine protocols.

For Cherry Hill Public Schools, the road forward as the 2021-’22 academic year unfolds, has not been without detours and obstacles. 

During the board of education’s open public meeting on Sept. 28, district administrators revealed plans regarding three key facets of everyday life within its 19 institutions: meal distribution, transportation and COVID-quarantine regulations. 

Per Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kwame Morton, both breakfast and lunch are served in school each day and all meals are free. 

“Students are permitted to pack a lunch, if that is the family’s choice. Nothing prevents students from bringing lunch to school,” Morton confirmed. 

Students who are on out-of-district placements will also receive free and reduced lunch.  Morton added that hot-meal service began during the week of Sept. 20 and he expected, as the school year progresses, that the district would introduce and integrate additional meal options. But, he did not specify what those options would be. 

The question of safe and timely student transportation before the morning bell and after dismissal has presented a unique set of challenges. 

“Transportation has been challenging for us. We have experienced more traffic probably than ever before,” Morton noted. 

He saw for himself a traffic crush at Cherry Hill High School East on the morning of the board meeting, stating that “the parking lot was mighty full with student drivers” and a high allotment of parental drop-offs. 

During her report to the board, East student representative Ariana Santiago Ramos spoke about the sudden influx of vehicles dropping off and picking up students and said  she has witnessed multiple accident near-misses fewer than three weeks into the school year. 

Ramos presented the idea of installing a crosswalk somewhere in the parking lot at East. Superintendent Joseph Meloche said that Morton, East Principal Dr. Dennis Perry, district Head of Security Anthony Saporito and others have held discussions on the issue.

Meloche then weighed in with a warning about student safety during morning and afternoon travel, adding that rolling construction throughout Cherry Hill presents an extra challenge for buses and other vehicles to make their way to and from school. 

He also revealed that a rear end collision had occurred in front of Cherry Hill HIgh School West the morning of the meeting, one that involved injuries and vehicle damage.

“You should always be careful when operating a vehicle, but especially around our schools,” Meloche added. “Take your time. Leave extra early.”

Regarding vaccination protocol, Beck Middle School nurse Barbara Kase-Avner spoke for the district, noting that any student who travels and is unvaccinated will be required to quarantine before coming back to school. 

Without a COVID test, quarantine would be 10 days long. Day one starts the day after a student returns from travel, and he or she is eligible for school on the 11th day. For those who are tested, the window would have to be one to three days following a return.   Quarantine would then be shortened to seven days, with a return possible on the eighth day, 

Exceptions to the above, Kase-Avner explained, would be for those fully vaccinated and two weeks post vaccination for Moderna and Pfizer, two weeks past a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a diagnosis of  COVID in the last 90 days. 

For any further questions, Kase-Avner advised parents to call their respective school’s nurse.

Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services LaCoyya Weathington reminded parents that the district does not have the authority to provide remote instruction, as Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order expired at the end of last academic year. The district does have the ability to provide remote instruction for students quarantining due to COVID exposure.  

In other news:

  • The board officially welcomed more than 110 new staff members who joined the Cherry Hill district family for the current school year, including new West Principal Toni Damon. Meloche read each of the newcomers’ names, and those who were in attendance stood to be recognized.
  • The nine-member body also approved a pair of resolutions: one declaring the week beginning Oct. 4 as a Week of Respect across the district, and a second recognizing the week beginning Oct. 18 as School Violence Awareness Week. 
  • During public comment for non-agenda items, one resident gave an impassioned speech  on a number of topics, eventually imploring the board to “stop the mask madness” and rebel against it as a symbol of obedience.