By JOHN T. WARD
While some 180 school districts throughout New Jersey are pursuing plans for all-virtual instruction, Red Bank’s is on track to open September 14 under a plan that puts students into classrooms two days a week, Superintendent Jared Rumage said Tuesday.
“We feel confident we can provide a safe environment” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rumage said at a board of ed meeting.
Rumage repeatedly expressed confidence that offering in-person instruction at 50-percent capacity, four days a week was manageable.
Fair Haven ran a successful in-person extended school year program this summer, and Monmouth Day Care Center has been open for about six weeks “without incident,” he said.
“So we have some evidence this can be done,” he said.
For the fall session, which begins September 14, about 258 of the district’s approximately 1,400 students will be on virtual-only learning plans, Rumage said, though the number is “changing every day,” he said.
Nearly 40 staffers inquired about remote learning positions or potential leaves of absence, he said, in response to questions by board member Ben Forest.
Rumage said the district was “able to either accommodate those individuals or, once we explained what the plan was, alleviate their concern.”
“I feel pretty good about our ability to manage most of those and support our staff in achieving something that best fits their needs and our needs,” he said, adding that “nearly every staff member will know what their assignment is” by the end of the day Thursday.
He said three staffers will be taking leaves of absence.
“I’m happy to say that we kind of went out of our way to make sure that everybody had a position and they could be a productive member of our school community without compromising our budget or the work that we need to do here for our children,” he said.
The number could rise, he said, if other districts go virtual, forcing more teachers with children of their own to opt for leaves.
“That could be a problem,” he said. “But right now, we’re in really good shape and ready to roll.”
Forest said it was “amazing that only three or four staff members are opting out.” He credited the administration.
Teachers will receive virtual professional training in virtual learning over several days starting next Wednesday, he said.
After the reopening plan was returned by the Monmouth County Superintendent earlier this month for what Rumage said were “minor adjustments,” the changes were made and the plan was resubmitted. Approval is pending, Rumage said.
Under the plan, students will be assigned to eight-child cohorts to “minimize crossover among children and adults.”
Unless their parents opt them out, children will be in school two days a week –either Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, depending on their cohort – for 4.5 hours per day, with buildings closed on Wednesday for detailed cleanings.
In preparation, the district has been taking deliveries of thermometers, hand sanitizers and plastic barriers, Rumage said.
With an OK from the police department, the traffic flow in the middle school parking lot will be reversed to improve social distancing as students are dropped off and picked up, he said.
At the primary school, buses will use the new emergency access path to approach and exit the property via Locust Avenue, which Rumage said will help ensure proper social distancing.
“We’re excited to open school on the 14th,” he said. “We feel it’s currently in the best interest of our students and this community. We feel we have a really good plan in place.”
Board member Jennifer Garcia noted that while the district received $465,000 under the federal CARES Act, the Red Bank Charter School received $50,000 under the act, as well as an additional $473,000 in Paycheck Protection Protection funding. If employee retention criteria are met, that money does not have to be repaid.
“If you add it together, to serve their 199-student enrollment, they got more aid than we did,” Garcia said. “I just wanted to bring that up to my colleagues on the board.”
“I think we can in part thank Betsy DeVos for the favored treatment of the charter school in this instance,” said board President Fred Stone, referring to the federal secretary of education.
Stone said the board hopes to hold “an in person, properly distanced, masked-up board meeting September 8 – provided all the facilities are ready and the rate of community transmission of the virus hasn’t changed.”