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RED BANK: SCHOOLS AT ‘LOW RISK,’ STAY OPEN

red-bank-primary-school-081319-1-500x332-4262338Red Bank’s schools provide multiple services to their families and “cannot be compared to neighboring towns,” said Superintendent Jared Rumage. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919While Little Silver and Shrewsbury schools quickly abandoned a joint local plan to remain open in the face of the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Red Bank’s will be open Friday, said Superintendent Jared Rumage.

But the pre-kindergarten-thru-8th-grade district intends to send students home early while administrators await “an official directive” on attendance from Trenton, he said.

jared-rumage-052319-500x332-9105274Rumage with middle school students last May. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

In an announcement on the district website Thursday evening, Rumage cited several factors in his decision to keep the primary and middle schools open Friday:

• student and staff attendance, and the number of students visiting the school health offices, have all remained unchanged from the levels of March, 2019, he said.

• the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission on Thursday changed the district’s risk designation from “low” to “low-to-extremely low”

“Finally, our school district is truly a community school district,” Rumage wrote. “We provide multiple services which our families need or require on a daily basis. We cannot be compared to neighboring towns.”

Those services include free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches for students. Some 80 percent of the district’s 1,400 students qualify for the benefit.

Friday’s early dismissals “will allow the opportunity to ensure students receive their home learning assignments, have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch, and also permit earlier access for our increased custodial staff to start a weekend of cleaning,” Rumage wrote.

“Moving forward, we anticipate an official directive from a state agency within the next 24-48 hours regarding public school attendance,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Red Bank Regional High sending districts of Little Silver, Shrewsbury and Red Bank agreed to remain open, even as the high school itself had begun an indefinite shutdown, they said in a joint statement.

The action followed news of a “presumptive positive” case of COVID-19 in an RBR student from Little Silver whose older brother is recovering from the virus.

But just hours later, reacting to reported “parent response,” Little Silver reversed course and said it would close Thursday.

On Thursday, Shrewsbury Superintendent Brent MacConnell, citing “the recent closures of RBRHS and the Little Silver Public Schools,” announced that his one-school district also would be closed Friday.

He said the day would be used “to prepare for the delivery of virtual, home instruction for all of our students and be prepared to begin that instruction on Monday, March 16th, 2020 should we need to be closed for an extended period of time.”

Meantime, the 200-student Red Bank Charter School, which was also party to Wednesday’s joint statement, has begun sending students from grades 3 through 8 home with Chromebooks. It had not announced any schedule changes as of late Thursday evening. Here’s an update from Head of School Kristen Martello.

Red Bank district students ended the day Thursday armed with assignments “intended to sustain learning in the event schools are closed,” according to letter to parents from Assistant Superintendent Luigi Laugelli.

The assignments allow for both hard-copy and digital work for those who have internet access, the letter said.

Those who don’t have internet access were advised to visit the borough library and four other sites, all of which have also been identified for the same purpose by RBR.

Here’s Rumage’s full statement from Thursday:

Dear Red Bank Borough Families,

On March 11, we distributed a joint statement in conjunction with the Red Bank Regional High School, Little Silver, Shrewsbury, and Red Bank Charter School Districts. Our statement indicated that our school districts would remain open based on the recommendation of the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission (MCRHC). At that time, the MCRHC designated our schools as low-risk. Since that time, both the Little Silver School District and the Shrewsbury Borough School District have opted to close their schools although the timeframe for either has not been specified. This was not done as a result of a directive from any medical agency but with what the MCRHC describes as “an abundance of caution.”

Due to this information, I spent part of my day visiting each of our locations and nearly all of our classrooms. Our student attendance was in alignment with historical data from March 2019 and the last several months with only a slight uptick. Staff attendance has also remained unchanged. Additionally, we have reviewed the number of students visiting our School Health Offices over the past five days. These records have indicated no significant increases in the number of students being seen or sent home for illness. Moreover, there is no evidence of any specific ailments or symptoms which would cause us alarm.

The other part of my day was spent in discussions with local Superintendents, District Leadership, local leaders and the Health Officer of the MCHRC. The MCHRC’s stance has not changed from yesterday, and actually our designation was slightly changed for the better from “low” to “low to extremely low” risk at this time. Finally, our school district is truly a community school district. We provide multiple services which our families need or require on a daily basis. We cannot be compared to neighboring towns. With this in mind, and in conjunction with the recommendation of the MCHRC, we will remain open through tomorrow (Friday, March 12, 2020), however, we will operate on a Minimum School Day schedule. An early dismissal for all schools will allow the opportunity to ensure students receive their home learning assignments, have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch, and also permit earlier access for our increased custodial staff to start a weekend of cleaning.

Dismissal Schedule:

    • Primary and All Preschool Locations: 1:15 PM
    • Middle School: 1:00 PM

Moving forward, we anticipate an official directive from a state agency within the next 24-48 hours regarding public school attendance. We will continue to provide frequent updates through all of the methods we have available (see below).

Much information is being circulated via the news, social media, various websites, etc. We realize this unique situation is a stressful time for all. Our number one priority, as always, is the safety and well-being of our students and staff. Our plans will be revised as needed based on updates by the Governor’s Office, Monmouth County Regional Health Commission and the New Jersey Department of Education. In our continued efforts to keep families and the community informed, I want to share with you some major points regarding our response to COVID-19.

    1. Prevention – The District has undertaken the following steps in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
      1. Cancelling of Events
        1. All Facility Use requests from outside groups have been cancelled until further notice. Events such as PTO Bingo, March Madness Dodgeball, etc. have been cancelled. Finally, all athletic practices/games have been postponed until further notice.
      2. Enhanced Cleanliness and Disinfection Protocols
        1. In response to guidance from the NJ Department of Health in February, our maintenance and custodial staff are fully informed regarding expectations regarding the use of cleaning agents and disinfectants. Since early February, we have increased use of disinfectant on all flat surfaces and touch points during nightly cleaning, increased periodic wiping of door handles and touch points during the day and use of electrostatic disinfectant sprayer on bookcases and manipulatives in classrooms.
        2. In addition to the district’s routine cleaning protocol, the custodial staff was directed to begin a frequent disinfecting treatment in high-traffic and high-touch areas (desks, doorknobs, stair railings, sinks, tables, keyboards, water fountains, lunch tables, dispensers, etc.). Cleaning protocols are based on recommendations made by the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health.
        3. Additional custodial staff has been brought in after hours and on weekends for cleaning purposes. The cancelling of events, including morning and after school activities, has provided more time to focus on cleaning.
        4. Equipment such as that being used for athletics, gym, music (keyboards), etc. is being cleaned after each use and with increased vigilance.
        5. We communicated with all bus companies and have confirmed they have implemented stricter daily cleaning practices.
      3. Student Education
        1. We continue to reiterate to our students the importance of hand washing and other preventative measures.
        2. We are minimizing large group gatherings during the days such as assemblies, lunch table gatherings, etc. to the best of our ability.
      4. Student Attendance
        1. Students should never come to school sick or without being fever-free for at least 24 hours. Regardless of any school attendance letters, please do not send your child to school if they are exhibiting any symptoms of illness or fever. IF YOU ELECT TO KEEP YOUR CHILD HOME DURING THIS TIME, WE WILL NOT PURSUE TRUANCY VIOLATIONS.
    2. Forced Closure Plan
      1. As a District, we have submitted a Forced Closure Plan as required by the New Jersey Department of Education. This is a living document and continues to be modified as we receive more information and guidance.
      2. A notice was sent home today to all families from Preschool – Grade 8 from Mr. Laugelli regarding academic instruction information. Our teachers have sent home work that can be completed independently should a closure occur.
      3. In the event of a forced closure, breakfast and lunch will be available for pickup from the Red Bank Primary School and Red Bank Middle School. Details would be sent via phone blast.
      4. Students who receive Related Services would be eligible for compensatory services as needed and based on their IEP when schools reopen. These include counseling, speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
    3. Communication
      1. Communication during this time is CRITICAL. We will continue to utilize the following methods: website (www.rbb.k12.nj.us) alerts/notices, phone blasts, Remind messages, Twitter (@rbpsEAGLES, @rbmsROCKETS & @RedBankPreK), Facebook (@RedBankBoroughPublicSchools), Instagram (@RedBankSup & @DreamBigRB), our electronic marquee and traditional paper notices.
      2. If you are not receiving phone blasts, please contact your child’s school immediately.
    4. Resources: Families should continue to consult these resources for information and advice.
      1. New Jersey Department of Health
      2. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
      3. NJDOH COVID-19 Hotline: 1-800-222-1222

The decision to close schools is not always a simple one. Remaining open is not a decision we made without consideration and input from multiple parties including local, county and State officials. While we understand families may feel differently, we believe maintaining our normal schedule of school services for tomorrow is the best plan for our community at this time.

We wish you all the best during these challenging times. Please feel free to contact me directly should you have any questions or special circumstances.

Jared J. Rumage, Ed.D.

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