One Cherry Hill father posting to a Facebook page Tuesday — hours before that town's Board of Education meeting on its school reopening plan — expressed the angst of parents everywhere from South Jersey to across the nation.

"This will be one of the hardest decisions families will have to make this fall with lifelong implications," he wrote. And this dad has a triple whammy: His children will be in kindergarten, second and fifth grades in one Cherry Hill elementary school. "The only year they would all be together...so much for the perfect plan..."

Cherry Hill's school administration laid out its plan for reopening this fall at a Tuesday evening meeting that was livestreamed to the public. The district, with nearly 11,000 students, is the largest in South Jersey. 

The Cherry Hill program offers a choice: hybrid instruction — both in-school and remote — or all-remote learning with livestreamed classes. Superintendent Joseph Meloche said a survey that went out to parents this week already has about 1,400 responses, with parents selecting the hybrid choice for about 1,000 students and the all-virtual for about 400 students. The deadline to make a choice is August 4. Parents will be notified of their child's cohort on August 10.

Meloche emphasized the plan could change by September depending on COVID-19. The program runs from school opening on September 8 until January 29, 2021. The system will be reevaluated and any changes will be announced before the December winter break, Meloche said.

In the fall, students will be divided into two cohorts, A and B. Earlier this month, Meloche said cohorts would be determined by last name but the staff has asked to be able to better balance the two groups and will determine them, he said. Students in the same family will be in the same cohort group so they are working remotely at the same time.

For elementary students, for example, Monday will be a remote instruction day for all students. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Cohort A will be in school and on Wednesday and Fridays, Cohort B will be in school. When not in school, the cohorts will be remote and livestream into the in-person classroom. Meloche said Mondays will be a day for teachers to bring all of their students together remotely.

All schools will have scheduled classes for four hours a day — meeting the state requirement for school days. Elementary students will meet between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; middle school between 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and high school between 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Deep detail on the program is in the slide show, presented above, and will be available on the Cherry Hill schools website. Detailed documents for parents will be available on the website. Some of the points that came out during the presentation:

  • What happens if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19? "That response does not exist yet," Meloche said. Guidelines will come from the Camden County Department of Health.
  • The district will be ready should the spread of COVID-19 worsens. "We are prepared to make the pivot to full remote instruction," Meloche said. If the district goes to full remote, the district would once again survey parents about their choices if students later were allowed to return to school buildings.
  • Can parents change their mind about their choice: hybrid or remote? Meloche did not say no, but did say that it would be challenging to move students from the virtual model to the hybrid model because in-school student cohorts will be balanced.
  • Any student who asks will get a Chromebook for remote classes. In the spring, 2,000 Chromebooks and 200 wifi hotspots were distributed to students.
  • Face masks will be available to all staff and students. "We will have masks that will be available for children," Meloche said. However, Meloche said he assumes children are wearing masks now when they leave their homes. Personal masks must be school-appropriate, he said.
  • Photos and videos of classrooms will be available in August so children can be prepared for what school will look like, Meloche said. 
  • Extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, can go on. Student meetings, such as student government, can be scheduled during lunch hours. All students will be allowed to participate.
  • Locker rooms will be closed down. Health lessons will be prevalent when students are in school and PE more prevalent virtually, Meloche said.
  • Cleaning protocols during the day will have instructions about who is responsible for wiping down high-touch surfaces.
  • Staff members will be able to work either from their classrooms or from home on Mondays when all students are remote.
  • The district has not surveyed its teachers about how they feel about coming back in-person. "There are concerns," Meloche said. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the union representing more than 200,000 school staff members statewide, has expressed concern that districts will not be prepared to safely reopen school buildings.
  • Parents should periodically check the FAQ on the district's website to see common questions and answers. Contact building principals with questions about children, said Meloche, who added that his email has been overwhelming. He advised parents to be careful about information on social media.

Meloche said the district's parents are key to the attitudes of their children. "Children feed off of us," he said.


What's on some parents' minds

Social media chatter about Cherry Hill's plan can show us the concerns, questions and worries of parents in dealing with the decision of returning to school in the fall:

  • [Scheduling] "My daughter lives in Monmouth Cty and they have offer the same choice. If you chose "in" school they are having student with last names starting with A-K go Mon and Tues only 4.5 hrs. L-Z Thur and Fri. All virtual on Wednesday. How are working parents going to deal with this is beyond me."
  • [Staff fears] "I'm very nervous about my child returning to school, and I'd much prefer her to stay home. But she's a teacher . . ."
  • [Social interaction] Mom: "Wish there was 100% onsite. We just moved to the area a year ago, and my son really flourished his first year at Carusi. I contribute that fully to the friends he made and saw on a daily basis." Fourth-grade teacher: "wouldn’t inviting his friends over be a good option for you then? He doesn’t have to be in school to socialize daily." Mom's response: "It would be a good option, but he's an almost 13-year old boy who is happy to sit around and do nothing all day. I push, but it doesn't happen often."
  • [Uncertainty] "I have a feeling, no matter what the plan is that is announced...or when it is announced...it is subject to change at all levels of authority (school board, county, governor, etc)"
  • [Multi-student families] "I also have many questions to make an informed decision. I have three elementary kids will they all go the same 2 days or will it be different for each kid. I will see what comes out tonight at 6 but I hope it is enough information to make a decision. This is will be one of the hardest decisions families will have to make this fall with life long implications."'
  • [Clarity in guidelines] "I hope the CH School district has written requirements for school bus ventilation for normal weather and inclement weather."
  • [Is opening sustainable?] First commenter: "At the risk of sounding negative (not my intention at all!), I just can’t imagine schools being in-person for longer than a month." Second commenter: "that’s not negative, look at baseball"
  • [Hybrid headaches] " Maybe its me.. but I don't really see much of a decision to make.. it's either stay home 5 days or stay home 3 days. I don't see going just 2 days a week being a big decision. I could see it being something if they gave us a real choice of 5 days in school or 5 days home.. but this 2 day is crappy."
  • [Student-teacher bonding] "Virtual or not, forming relationships is going to be extremely difficult in this climate. In the K-5 arena, I feel it would greatly assist our children to have them loop with their previous year teacher. Would love to see the district consider this. It’s completely feasible at the lower level and they’ll be making up previous year content anyway."