By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – In her first presentation to school board members since being named superintendent of the Ventnor schools, Dr. Carmella Somershoe Wednesday, July 22 briefed the board on the district’s plans to reopen schools on Thursday, Sept. 3.
Somershoe said the plan is tentative and subject to any changes in the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey, and is based on guidance from the NJ Departments of Education and Health, the district’s school physician and attorney.
The safety and well-being of students and staff is the guiding principle on reopening, she said. The plan calls for a hybrid model of education, but parents who opt-out of classroom instruction will be able to have their children learn at home.
The plan was developed with input from “stakeholders,” including parents, teachers, support staff, administration, the Board of Education, maintenance and custodial staff, the technology department, school nursing staff and food service providers, using the NJ Department of Education’s recently released document, “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.”
The district conducted a survey of parents that included representation from 58% of the district’s students. Somershoe said the district received an average of 27 responses per grade level, and responses from 75% of the staff.
In their responses, 66% of parents said they preferred a hybrid configuration with in-classroom instruction and remote learning. Ninety percent of parents who filled out the survey said they would send their children to school after screening them for fever and symptoms, and even more parents said they would send their children to school with hand sanitizers, wipes and masks.
The survey indicated there are about 25% of students who need to borrow computer devices and another 4% who will need help obtaining internet access.
The district will employ CDC guidelines regarding health and safety, including frequent routine hand-washing, installing sanitation stations throughout the Ventnor Educational Community Complex. Cleaning supplies will be available in every classroom and the district will use the Clorox Total 360 disinfecting sprayers daily.
The district will also provide everyone in the building with two reusable masks and install Plexiglass dividers on desks and tables. Social distancing will be the norm throughout the school and arrivals and dismissals, which were previously restricted to certain locations, will be done at a variety of entrances, Somershoe said.
Teachers will be required to obtain training in health and safety precautions.
Parents will have the choice of a hybrid schedule with students attending in-person classes twice a week with remote learning three days a week. In-person classes will be offered Monday through Thursday, with all students learning remotely on Fridays. If they opt for remote learning as a full-time option, all students will be required to fully participate and complete all assignments.
School board President Douglas Biagi asked how the new plan would compare with the emergency remote learning provided in spring.
There will be more accountability this time around, Somershoe said.
“We want to make sure our students are learning,” she said.
The district already has computers for nearly all grades, and computers will be purchased for grades 1-2, and kindergarten, if needed. Teachers will closely monitor remote learning and provide technical support for devices.
The district will offer in-person and remote learning opportunities for special education and English language learners.
Students who take the bus to school will be required to wear masks at the bus stop, on the bus, and the district will allow families to ride to school together. The district will provide bus aides and coordinate bus routes with high schools based on their reopening schedules. Parents will be able to transport their children as well, she said. The district is developing a mask education campaign to help parents get their children used to wearing face coverings.
To ensure health and safety of students and staff, no visitors or volunteers will be allowed to enter the school until further notice.
One of the most important things for parents to do is to update their contact information in the Parent Portal on the district’s website.
“We need to make sure we can get a hold of you,” she said.
The district is also working to develop a limited after-school care program for students who attend school on any given day.
Ventnor Education Association President Gina Perkins said teachers are grateful they were able to participate in developing the plan.
“It is with some trepidation, but we want to be back in the classroom,” she said.
Biagi commended district staff for its work developing the plan.
“The fact that we have a plan 45 days ahead is great,” he said.
The plan must be sent to the Atlantic County Executive Superintendent of schools for approval by August, Somershoe said.
In other business, the board approved the purchase of a new reading program, and approved reassignments for clerical staff that eliminated one position and saved the district about $47,000, Somershoe said.
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