The Moorestown board of education addressed Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order on masking at its Feb. 15 meeting.
Murphy announced the week before that facial coverings will no longer be mandated for students, staff or visitors in schools and child-care centers, effective March 7.
Superintendent Michael Volpe noted in his monthly report that Moorestown schools will be mask optional.
“While there are other issues still related to COVID that all schools must deal with, we are waiting to receive further guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health about these matters,” Volpe said. “At that time, we’ll begin to analyze any such guidelines and assess their impact on the schools, and we will inform you of any important information.”
Earlier in the board meeting, it was announced that member Jack Fairchild had resigned the day before.
“Mr. Fairchild was a strong and tireless advocate for the advancement, safety and well-being of our students and staff,” said Board President Maurice Weeks. “While it may not have always appeared that he was vocal, we all knew what Jack stood for and, most importantly, where his heart was.”
The board then addressed communication issues.
“With regard to listening, prior to the pandemic, I and other members of the school board recognized the limitations of the mandated structure of holding a board meeting in public rather than a public meeting,” Weeks explained.
“We will be adding a public comment section to our website where the community can share their comments in advance of the board meeting.”
Volpe explained that a link will be provided for residents to submit questions or comments.
“Anyone who submits question(s), comment(s) or concern(s) through the website is still welcome to come to a meeting and give additional, actual public comment,” he noted.
“We expect to have this up and running before the next board meeting in March,” Weeks said, “… This will not be the final step we take to increase communication and opportunities to actively listen, in an effort to build dialogue, understanding and trust.”
Volpe cited the township’s partnership with the Haddon Township School District Communications Consortium, adding that parents, employees and community members can complete an online survey on district communications that will be launched next month.
“After the survey data is collected, a series of focus groups will be scheduled for all stakeholders to take a deeper look into our district communications and answer questions about what’s working well and what needs to improve,” added Volpe, who said collected data and an action plan will be released to the public in May.
“It is likely that implementation for such a comprehensive plan can take anywhere from one to three years,” he noted.
During the meeting’s public comment, Moorestown resident Rachel Licausi cited the difference in kids’ lunches. Her daughter is a fourth grader at Moorestown’s Upper Elementary School and her son a second grader at George C. Baker Elementary School. Students at Upper Elementary are seated individually facing forward, while students at Baker are at long tables separated into groups of four.
“For my son, lunch feels normal again and fun, and for my daughter, it’s the most unpleasant part of her school day,” Licausi said. “… They come home, they compare experiences and then they look to me, their mother, for answers. And I don’t have any answers.”
Board member Jill Fallows Macaluso and Volpe addressed Licausi’s comment.
“I would like to understand whether or not we can assess the lunch experience and other experiences of the students,” Macaluso said. “It’s clearly ticked and tied to operations but also the health and wellbeing and social and emotional experience of our children which I do believe is something that the board should care about.”
“It’s certainly something that we will look into,” Volpe said. “If we decide to make some changes, I can certainly report back to the board about what we are doing.”
Weeks’ closing comments addressed ongoing concerns about masking children.
“If you have concerns, if you have questions, please reach out through the proper channels … ask us the questions,” he advised. “We will certainly provide you the information in the appropriate manner, (because) that’s the structure and that’s how it works.”