Lawrence Township Public Schools students will begin the school year fully remote, after the township Board of Education approved the district’s reopening plan Aug. 12.
The district broke reopening into five phases, numbered zero through five. LTPS will begin the 2020-21 academic year Sept. 8 in Phase One, an entirely remote instructional approach. Students will follow a set class schedule remotely, while teachers will provide virtual instruction to their assigned homerooms and courses following a similar schedule. School buildings will be open for staff, but teachers are not required to use the school or their classrooms to provide instruction.
The district also said childcare with access to instruction will be offered via learning centers within school buildings. Students may attend childcare daily from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
In its “Restart and Reopening Plan,” the district justified the decision by saying that Department of Homeland Security has identified Mercer County as an emerging hotspot for COVID-19, and that current health information for the area reveals the infection in the last week has increased to its highest level in months.
“Based on the data, feedback from the subcommittees, staff, families, the Board of Education, the Lawrence Health Department, and guidelines from the NJDOE, LTPS will start on September 8, 2020, in Phase One…The Phase One model provides the safest option for all students, staff, and the community in reducing exposure to COVID-19. LTPS understands the importance of a full reopening of schools for students and the benefits of face-to-face in-person instruction. Yet, the continued national resurgence of infection and the likelihood for exposure due to the entire student population, professional staff, and community interacting at a level not seen since before schools closed in March 2020, lead us to propose this model as we begin the school year,” the LTPS reopening plan said, also adding that the district will continue monitoring conditions to determine when to advance to the next phase.
A survey of parents conducted by LTPS in July found that 60% intended to send their children to school in September. But a substantial number of parents had a change of heart in the weeks following the survey, opting to switch their children to remote, the district said.
In Phase One, teachers provide virtual education, meetings, check-ins, and conferences with the entire class via Zoom or another conferencing tool. Teachers will conduct whole group direct instruction, focused small group settings and individual consultations with students. When teachers are not meeting with the whole class, the district said they will meet with different small groups, as well as with individual students. While teachers are meeting with various students individually and in small groups, other students will focus on anchor activities, cooperative learning tasks, and differentiated independent practice.
An executive order signed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy the same day, Aug. 12, allowed the Lawrence plan to happen. Murphy’s order cleared schools to reopen, but permitted districts that cannot meet state health and safety standards for in-person instruction to begin their school year remotely. Districts that opt for an all-remote start must spell out their plans for satisfying unmet standards, and provide the state a date by which the district anticipates the ability to resume in-person instruction.
Schools elsewhere in the United States opened last week, giving a small sample of what might be expected should districts in New Jersey choose to do in-person instruction. As of Aug. 13, more than 2,000 students, teachers and staff members across five states have been quarantined after at least 230 positive coronavirus cases were reported, according to CNN. Cherokee County School District, in Georgia, has had more than 1,100 students, teachers and staff members quarantined after finding 59 COVID-19 cases there in the first week of school.
CORRECTION (Aug. 13, noon): The initial version of this story incorrectly stated that teachers would be required to teach in their classrooms. Schools are open for staff, but teachers are not required to use the school building for instruction.