At a Jan. 11 board of education meeting, Cherry Hill West Principal Dr. Kwame Morton provided updates on COVID guidelines for the school in light of recent, high-transmission rates.
Measures included updated and temporary remote-learning eligibility for students identified as close contacts, those awaiting access to or results from a COVID test, students quarantining due to travel, those who have self-screened at home and are experiencing symptoms as specified on the COVID-19 At-Home Screening Checklist, and students exposed to a COVID positive relative.
The guidelines note that there may be one to three days before eligible students are able to begin temporary remote instruction so teachers can prepare, a timeline students and parents at the board meeting said was too long.
Additional mitigation strategies while Camden County is at high risk for COVID transmission include not allowing visitors access inside school buildings, moving some meetings to a virtual format, suspending field trips and limiting the number of spectators to two parents or guardians for athletic events.
Upon hearing the updated guidelines, board member Dr. Benjamin Rood asked, “Is there any kind of conversation with students about improving quality of life and joy?”, “What efforts are there to come up with a pandemic world-friendly way of increasing school spirit and trying to help students find joy in their education, and try to get away from the stress and the anger and the frustration and all of the emotions that we are feeling at this time?”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Farrah Mahan explained that there are student committees put in place prior to the pandemic where students can share their experiences. Social-emotional learning and development have happened through initiatives such as CareSolace and Thrive.
School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche said that in the past year, the district has worked to maintain in person opportunities for students. He also explained that during the 2020-’21 school year, schools were able to provide remote learning as an option after an executive order from the governor that ended in June.
“The governor was very overt in his comments last June about the expectation that schools would be in person,” said Meloche, who also noted an exemption for students quarantining because of a positive test or a close contact.
“As a school district, we run the risk, if we were to go against the state guidelines and the statutory requirements that the state provides, we run the risk of putting a child in a very tenuous situation by having days of school that don’t count for them,” the superintendent explained.
Nevertheless, many students and parents pushed to have remote learning as an option during the board meeting, including six students from Cherry Hill East and one from Rosa International Middle School who described their feelings on the issue.
“I don’t feel safe coming to school,” said Ayza Sayany, a junior at East. She and others noted that they couldn’t afford to miss days of school while waiting to transition online, and that even when the transition has been made, it is still difficult for students who are learning remotely.
Harry Turner, another junior at East, shared how the spike in cases has disrupted class time because multiple teachers have gotten sick or are waiting for a test.
At the end of the meeting, Meloche reiterated that remote learning is no longer an option the district can offer other than in cases of quarantine.
The full meeting is available for viewing on the Cherry Hill Public Schools YouTube channel.
In the upcoming weeks, there will be a special board of education meeting on bond development on Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m., followed by a regular meeting the next Tuesday, Jan. 25 and a town hall regarding the middle school redistricting process on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
The meetings will be available online and in person.