Parents, students and school staff across the state seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Gov. Phil Murphy reversed part of the state’s initial back-to-school guidance and decided to allow families to opt for a 100% remote learning option. Bordentown Regional School District superintendent Edward Forsthoffer was one of them.
Now, the district will offer a hybrid learning model for the 2020-21 school year, and parents will be able to select a full-time online model for students.
Early on in the reopening process, Forsthoffer, along with 200 other New Jersey superintendents, was concerned enough to sign a letter urging Murphy to change the state’s decision. July 20, he announced the change.
“I think, initially, it was a problem,” Forsthoffer said. “We knew that we would have some families who would not be able to send their children due to medical issues. There were also a number of families who were uncomfortable and, if they did not choose to send their children in, they would need to withdraw them. I definitely felt that our students would be better staying with the district than being independent.”
It’s also something the district was happy to take into consideration during the reopening planning process.
The Bordentown Regional School District established a 48-person restart committee, made up of school board members, faculty, staff, administration, educational directors and operations personnel. The committee spent “dozens” of hours on planning, Forsthoffer said, and utilized four subcommittees: safety and wellness, instruction, facilities and personnel.
“The four subcommittees divided the larger task up so that we could concentrate on the specifics,” Forthoffer said. “This ultimately resulted in a better final product.”
Each school will also create its own Pandemic Response Committee to handle school-specific issues and work hand-in-hand with the district’s larger committee.
Community members also filled out a survey in early July detailing their preferences and concerns. The response was positive—over 1,500 families completed their surveys, Forsthoffer said. Based on the responses, plus committee participation, the district is currently developing three plans for reopening.
First is the traditional opening, or Bordentown’s “best case” scenario, Forsthoffer said in a letter to the community. The plan will not be implemented in September, but the district hopes it will be safe enough to take effect at some point in during the academic year.
The district also has a full-time distance learning plan in place. Forsthoffer said schools will be able to transition to a filly remote schedule if the state requires it.
“Unlike the building closings on March 13, 2020, we have a real opportunity here,” Forsthoffer said. “This time we will not be thrown into a situation and expected to operate as if we are experts. We are working on professional development for distance learning, as well as codifying and standardizing expectations on how to best deliver our content virtually.”
The last and most likely plan is the hybrid model, which combines both in-person and remote instruction. It will be implemented in the fall if conditions stay the same, though parts of the plan may change before then.
“With social distancing, we cannot have all of our students in the schools at the same time,” Forsthoffer said. “The hybrid model allows us to offer in-person teaching, to some degree, as well as virtual learning.”
Bordentown’s hybrid model will run on a Group A and Group B structure, allowing in-person instruction five out of every 10 days for each student, if they are able to physically go to school.
Group A will have in-person instruction on Tuesdays and Thursday for approximately three hours. Literacy, math, science and social studies will be taught at the elementary level. At the secondary level, students will follow their traditional block schedule, just within an abbreviated timeframe. Students will go home prior to lunchtime, and to-go meals will be available.
In the afternoon, Group A will have asynchronous learning. Elementary students will receive art or music instruction, and older students will work on long-term projects or with one another in virtual groups during the timeframe.
While Group A does asynchronous work, Group B will receive live, virtual instruction. That group will also complete asynchronous work on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Group B will learn in-person on Wednesdays and Fridays, and groups will alternate Mondays.
“We are developing social distancing guidelines for the classrooms, hallways, and buses,” Forsthoffer said. “Entry protocols for entering the building and guidelines for reducing visitors and other forms of cross contamination. The committee has been working at a fervent pace to make sure that we are ready for your children in the fall. It will look different, but it will be as safe as possible. Rest easy knowing that we are all in this together.”