Dr. David Aderhold, superintendent of the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District and president of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, was my guest speaker at the Middlesex County School Boards Association meeting in January, 2019.
Dr. Aderhold has now prepared over 284 questions with regards to school reopening. There are over 580 school districts, more than 2,500 schools and over 115,000 teachers serving more than 1.4 million students in New Jersey. Without clear guidance on how to prepare for the fall semester, public health will be compromised.
Dr. Aderhold has stated that the planning for September 2020 happens now. He has stated that the school districts need definitive guidance on re-entry, remaining virtual or creating a hybrid model. Guidance on the amount of state aid that school districts can anticipate. The state aid numbers released in February 2020 are a fallacy based upon a different time, a pre-global pandemic time, as voiced by Dr. Aderhold.
The public health and the health of staff and students are paramount, and Dr. Aderhold stated that it appears that budgetary reductions will come in waves. If further reductions are coming, school districts cannot wait until the governor’s Aug. 25 budget report, and contracts are appointed and staff renewals have already happened. Hundreds of questions must be answered in order to ensure the safety of our school communities.
Dr. Aderhold has sent the questions to Gov. Murphy, the state Department of Health and the state Department of Education. Without such guidance, schools cannot safely reopen. A question also arose with regards to school districts enrollment officers. There has been no information from the Department of Education as to enrollment procedures for the fall.
Dr. Aderhold began with 91 questions, and the amount now stands at almost 300 questions. A synopsis of the questions are:
1. Who gets to determine the acceptable risk of foreseeable harm, illness and potentially death in our public schools should we return from virtual instruction to in-person instruction?
2. What will be the criteria and parameters to reopen schools, when will the districts receive a re-entry plan, and what what will be the COVID-19 testing protocols for students, staff, visitors, etc.?
3. If someone in the school community tests positive, what will be the next required steps? Will school need to be closed for deep cleaning? What will the requirements be for contact tracing and testing, how long will the staff and student need to be quarantined, and how long will the buildings be closed?
4. If schools return in Fall 2020, will modifications be made to teaching schedules for staff members that have pressing medical needs, will students and staff members be required to wear masks, and will accommodations be made to allow families who wish to keep their children home in the fall?
5. Will there be modifications to school days, virtual school days, staggered start times, class size restrictions, half-day classes, one-day-on, one-day-off schedules, small class sizes; hybrid model that allows parents to opt to virtual instructions while maintaining in-person instructions?
6. What are the contractual impacts to the myriad of possible scheduling solutions, financial impacts in order to implement social distancing requirement, additional busing as districts need to transport less students per bus, additional teachers needed for social distancing classrooms, additional nursing staff and will school districts continue to offer extendedly care (before and after school programs)?
7. If school districts will be required to supply one mask per day per staff and students, will masks also need to be provided to visitors and will multiple masks be need per student at the elementary level? What equipment and supplies will be required to make schools safe? (Hand sanitizers, face make , personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, gloves, etc.)
8. Is the expectation that students and teachers will be wearing masks reasonable? Many students have sensory issues, asthma or special needs that would make wearing a mask for extended periods of times very difficult. Will a temperature scan prior to students boarding a school bus be required, and who will perform the scan?
9. What will music classrooms look like in the Fall 2020? Will there be spit valves on brass instruments, choir classrooms with vapor particles. What will band class look like? What about concerts? How do you socially distance in physical eduction classes? How do you socially distance in locker rooms?
10. What protocols will be required for athletic facilities to be maintained including surface areas, turf fields, sports equipment ?
11. What will cafeterias look like in the Fall 2020? How will meals be served and how will sanitation be handled along with food preparation?
12. Will school districts be allowed to offer extra-curricular activities that require mass gatherings to occur during 2020-2021 school year?
13. Will there be antibody testing available for staff members and students? If so, who will administer such testing and what are the implications for HIPAA and confidentiality rights?
14. How is it possible that in 2020, New Jersey has over 75,000 students that do not have access to an internet connection? What is being done to address such inequities and will legislative action be needed?
15. How will occupational therapists provide socially distanced therapeutic services? How will athletic trainers handle injuries without violating social distancing requirements?
16. What legislative or regulatory changes are going to need to be made in advance so that we can ensure maximum flexibility in adjusting to remote learning or in-person environments for Fall 2020 (class size, length of day, fire code, security and safety, facility, transpirational special education, medical exclusion, attendance, registration)?
17. Will hallway water fountains need to be turned off to prevent the potential spread of the virus?
18. What specialized personal protective equipment will be needed for students and staff (deaf and hard of hearing, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, auto-immune disease, autism, etc)?
19. At some point, there will be a vaccine. Will vaccines be required for staff members and if the refuse to get vaccinated, will they be allowed to work in the schools?
20. New Jersey’s guidelines state that a substantial increase in testing capacity is needed before reopening measure move further. What does this mean in relation to schools?
School districts will require guidance on the reopening of schools now, whether it will be in September 2020 or January 2021. School districts look to Gov. Murphy, the state Department of Health and the state Department of Education. Answers to all the questions are critical for the health and safety of our teachers, staff and students. Thank you to Dr. David Aderhold for spearheading the movement to have school districts reopening plans guided by our state officials today.
Boyle is immediate past president of the Middlesex County School Boards Association.