VENTNOR – The Board of Education passed a resolution at its Dec. 16 meeting asking the NJ Department of Education to relax yearly mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district was holding hybrid classes, but as of Dec. 11, went to fully virtual learning until Jan. 8, 2021, but could return to the hybrid schedule again on Jan. 11, 2021, if the state is still in Orange Status.
Although the district has had some COVID-19 cases, it has worked closely with the school nurses and the Atlantic County Health Department to identify and quarantine positive cases.
According to Superintendent and Ventnor Elementary School Principal Carmela Somershoe, some students are not attending virtual classes.
“We are looking at the success or lack of success of students in virtual instruction,” she explained to board members.
The district has implemented virtual afterschool sessions to help elementary school students improve their performance, and is communicating with parents of struggling students, she said.
“With some of these students, we see their participation in the virtual environment is a big issue.”
Guidance counselors are checking in with parents to ensure their children follow the schedule.
Although some students have shown improvement, others previously had chronic absenteeism and were already underperforming, Somershoe said.
“For them, the virtual environment has added an additional stressor,” she said. “We’re working hard and monitoring how our students are doing and trying our best to support the families during what we know is a very difficult time.”
Middle School Principal Rob Baker said he also has students who are not logging on for remote instruction and are hiding assignments from their parents.
“We realized the children are not being honest with what they are doing or not doing.”
The office has established a hotline for parents to improve communication.
“We are asking parents not to take their children’s word for it, because if we call you and say the assignment is not done, it is probably not done,” he said.
The district is encouraging parents to log onto the parent portal to ensure their children are attending class and doing assignments, he said.
“We want to help out the parents as much as possible,” he said.
Board President Douglas Biagi said providing parents access to their children’s attendance and grade puts them “on an even playing field with the kids.”
“This year is probably going to be analyzed for years to come in trying to figure out who got something out of it, who didn’t, who failed and if we are actually behind. We are doing everything we can,” he said. “We’re going to have some making up down the road.”
Board member Michael Hagelgans asked if the state would be conducting standardized testing, which is an indication of student performance compared to students in other districts.
Somershoe said although state mandated assessments were not held last spring, the district does perform regular benchmark assessments.
Conducting statewide assessments when students are not in school would be “an unrealistic expectation,” she said.
Baker said benchmark assessments give teachers an excellent insight into how their students are performing on reading levels and mathematics skill sets.
Board member Michael Cupeles said other districts will also pass the resolution letting state and federal officials know “this is not a normal year.”
According to the resolution, data compiled from the 2020-2021 school year may not be reliable “as many individuals who qualified for free and reduced meals prior may not qualify due to pandemic relief,” and because state and county departments are not working in person, “which impacts the board’s ability to obtain timely responses on these mandated matters and concerns.”
The resolution states mandates “are simply a listing of some of the requirements” of the NJ DOE and “not inclusive, but rather illustrates some key examples of required mandates.”
The resolution further implores the state to “give critical consideration to relaxing yearly mandates.”
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