This story has been updated to include comment from Superintendent Brian Betze.
New Robbinsville Public Schools superintendent Brian Betze released the first steps of the district’s back-to-school plan in a letter to the community July 17—but not before the state Department of Education changed its official mandate.
In the letter, Betze said that the plan has not been finalized and that the district expects flexibility and changes in the coming months.
The letter listed several broad features of the plan.
All school days will run on an early dismissal schedule, though dismissal times may change depending on the need to disinfect buses. Additionally, the entire student body will be split in half, and families will be kept together.
Students opting to attend school will follow a half in-person, half-remote schedule each week, though, according to recent state guidelines, students and parents can select a full-time distance learning program.
As of July 17, students did not have the option of a full-time virtual learning plan, according to a state Department of Education mandate. School stakeholders throughout New Jersey questioned the state’s initial guidance, including those in Robbinsville.
“Many superintendents and school-related organizations are actively petitioning the governor to change his decision on this topic,” Betze wrote before the switch. “If this changes, we will readjust our plan’s offerings.”
It turns out Betze and the other superintendents did not have to wait long. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the change July 20. While the new state guidelines won’t change the general outline of Robbinsville’s plan, it does make the start of the school year safer overall, Betze told the Advance.
“If we have 20 percent fewer students in school, there is more room for social distancing, there are fewer kids on the bus, everyone can spread out more,” he said. “I’m glad we can offer than option now.”
Betze also added that the state’s July decision allows for more faculty and staff preparation time before the school year begins.
“Parents are happier,” he said. “Now, we’re able to focus on offering a 100 percent virtual program, and we’re able to focus on training and preparing staff for remote learning.”
For in-person learning, all classrooms will be equipped with a safety kit, which will include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other supplies. Masks and hand sanitizer will also be added to supply lists for all students in September.
Parents will be required to complete a daily electronic health screening checklist on each child. Staff will also do the same. An additional survey requesting information on other needs, like direct transportation, will be sent to parents in early August.
The district’s decision making process followed four tenets: health and safety of students and staff, precedence of the district’s most vulnerable students, consideration of childcare and supervision, and instructional practices.
In June, the state Department of Education issued guidance on the reopening of schools in September in a 104-page document titled, The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.
“Each district will be expected to develop, in collaboration with community stakeholders, a plan to reopen schools in the fall that best fits the district’s local needs,” said state education commissioner Lamont Repollet in the document.
The plan was set to be presented at the July 28 Board of Education meeting and then communicated to the district. School is set to start Sept. 8.