Click on the slide show above to see some of the draft recommendations presented by Cherry Hill schools on July 14, 2020 for reopening in the fall. This is a draft proposal and not the final plan, which will be available by August 8 at the latest.
Extensive school sanitizing, masks for everyone in school nearly all the time and a hybrid schedule of meeting in person and remotely are draft recommendations for the return of Cherry Hill students to their schools in the fall.
Joseph Meloche, superintendent of South Jersey's largest school district, Tuesday evening presented the plan — he emphasized it is a draft and not final — based on extensive committee meetings and crowd sourcing within the community. "Right now these are recommendations," Meloche said, later noting there is going to be no perfect model for all parents in the district.
Meloche also said the social emotional impact on students must be considered. Being in school together is important, he said. "Kids like school regardless of what they will tell you," he added.
Returning to school buildings would not be required. Cherry Hill recommends offering a full remote learning option for elementary, middle and high school students who choose not to attend in person.
Special education and ESL students would attend school in person and not remotely, the plan recommends.
Public education will never look the same as it did before March 16, Meloche said in the presentation. He emphasized the primary focus will be on the health and safety of the students and staff.
Like Cherry Hill, many districts are turning to their teachers, staff, parents and others for guidance in crafting a reopening plan.
In Voorhees, David Gentile, superintendent of schools, told 70and73.com that "planning is well underway" with committee meetings now being held with parents, staff and members of the board and community. "Our approach has been, instead of writing the plan with my administration, we chose to create a draft plan for three varieties of return. One for a full recovery to regular sessions, one for full remote instruction, and a third for a hybrid combination of both," Gentile explained, saying the draft plan is being presented to the committees.
Medford Lakes school district expects to have its plan by the first or second week of next month, according to Superintendent Anthony Dent. The Mount Laurel school district expects to have a plan the first week in August, said George J. Rafferty, superintendent of schools.
And, at the regional high school level, Eastern Regional in Camden County will conduct about 15 committee meetings with its stakeholders over the next three weeks, said Superintendent Robert Cloutier. Final details will be ready to submit by August 8 and will be presented at the August Board of Education meeting to the public, he told 70and73.com.
One of the more controversial recommendations from the Cherry Hill proposals Tuesday evening might be masks for all, nearly all of the time. Since the notion of masks for all students came up, parents across the region on social media have asked how to get a kindergarten student, for example, to continually wear a mask at school.
Meloche said parents can work over the summer to prepare Cherry Hill students for the new experience this fall and that includes working with them on masking. Let the child choose an appropriate mask and practice building endurance wearing a mask — such as wearing it around the house and during chores, according to the recommendation. Other Cherry Hill proposals:
- Besides wearing masks in classrooms, students would have to cover their mouths and noses on buses, in hallways, in the cafeteria and going to the restroom, according to recommendations.
- Children would be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at home before school, including taking each child's temperature.
- Regular bus routes would be provided and students, wearing masks, would be assigned seats and could not leave them during the ride. Bus high-touch areas would be sanitized between routes and buses would be cleaned each night.
- No visitors would be permitted in the schools and until at least February 1, 2021 no outside groups would be permitted to use school buildings.
- A strict regimen of cleaning and sanitizing schools would be observed. Disinfecting misters would be used in every room every school night and cleaning products would be selected based on their ability to kill the COVID-19 virus, Meloche said.
One question that came up during the session was what do you do when a student takes a mask off or refuses to wear one. Meloche said a lot would be up to parents preparing the student over the summer. "More punishment is just not the answer," the superintendent said of a student who tries to ditch the mask.
After he mentioned punishment, Meloche noted there would be no detention when students return to school in Cherry Hill.
Another question is what happens when someone at the school tests positive for the coronavirus. Meloche said the district is awaiting guidance from the Camden County Health Department and the state Department of Health. He said contact tracing would be done by the county, not the school system.
Social media commentary on whether school buildings everywhere should or should not reopen has been varied and in some cases the debate has been hot.
"We recognize that in this there will not be a clear consensus. Some will inherently be left disappointed with some aspect of the plan as these are less than ideal times," Gentile of the Voorhees district said.
And, like other school officials, Gentile conceded some level of uncertainty over the spread of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. "We acknowledge that despite our efforts, Gov. Murphy could make an announcement that overrides our decisions at any time," Gentile said.
» MORE: "The Road Back": NJ state guidelines on school reopenings.
» MORE: Health of students, educators and families will be No. 1.