This is the second of a two-part series on local schools reopening.
COURT HOUSE - Most students will be returning to classroom instruction Sept. 8, a random survey of schools in the county shows.
"We are taking things day-by-day, but we are planning for a five-day-a-week, in-school reopening,” said Jamie Moscony, assistant superintendent, Cape May County Special Services School District (CMCSSSD).
More than 90% of CMCSSSD's 240 students will return for in-person learning. Half of them will attend a “soft opening” in the classroom and virtually Sept. 8-9, and the other half will return Sept. 10-11 before resuming together Sept. 14. “We will be able to provide more individualized attention as the students transition to the building,” Moscony said about the soft opening.
One of the area’s private schools, Cape Christian Academy (CCA), will open its doors for the traditional five-day-a-week, in-person program and a hybrid program, which has a two-day or three-day-a-week option of being in a classroom.
CCA has about 70 students enrolled for the coming year, as of Aug. 26, with eight enrolled in the hybrid program.
Classes began at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Mays Landing and Charles D. Worthington Atlantic City campuses Aug. 31, with online and limited face-to-face instruction. The Cape May County campus opens Sept. 21. Atlantic Cape has been teaching classes online in addition to traditional classroom learning for over 20 years.
They are projecting lower student enrollment this semester because of COVID-19 concerns, while nearly all faculty will be returning.
CMCSSSD Remains ‘Flexible’
The CMCSSSD's pandemic response team and steering committees continue to update their reopening plans (https://bit.ly/2Ew66qd) based on the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state Department of Education (DOE). Members include school staff, teacher aides, nurses, the school physician, and the counselor.
“Over the last few months, we have reviewed many different opening scenarios, such as full time, two to four days a week, and fully virtual, and what we have determined is that due to the size of our district, which includes many open and available extra classrooms and therapy suites, we are able to bring our students back full time (five days a week in-person) with recommended social distancing measures in place,” Moscony said.
“In addition, we have repurposed our cafeterias, media center, and other open areas and have made them into classrooms to accommodate larger class sizes. Providing a quality education, in a safe and healthy environment, remains our top priority,” she added.
Moscony noted that while many of the same challenges face the special services school as other schools, the challenges are also “very different for special ed students. We will be spending a lot of time teaching students why they need to wear a mask, for example,” she explained. “Teachers may have more mask breaks, so we have to have a flexible approach.”
All students and staff must answer a “daily checklist” set of questions before arriving at school, which inquiries about symptoms, exposure to anyone with COVID-19, and any travel outside the area. Teachers will also use a checklist before a student enters the classroom.
According to Annamarie Hayes, principal, CMCSSSD's high school and Ocean Academy, student desks and classrooms will be arranged to maximize physical space and improve distance. She presented the reopening plans to parents virtually Aug. 10.
“We will have markings in the halls of where the students can walk, and what social distancing means so they can see what 6 feet looks like,” Hayes said. “We will have to teach our students how to social distance.
“There may be some children who have sensory issues or health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask,” she added, “or they may not be able to remove their mask, which is a health concern so we will do the best we can with face masks.”
Hand sanitizer will be available in all classrooms, and desks/tables will be sanitized between each class and disinfected each night.
For now, cafeterias, pools, and locker rooms will be closed. Students riding buses will be assigned seats. Meals will be served in the classroom. Water fountains will be closed and students are encouraged to bring their own water bottles, according to Hayes.
Commonly touched surfaces, such as entry door handles, railings, etc., will be sanitized. Common areas, such as the playground, will be limited to one classroom at a time. These areas will be disinfected after each use.
“It’s important to have our children back to meet their instructional and therapeutic needs,” Hayes said, “so our program is flexible. We have so many different kinds of children that we always need to be flexible. We will continue to be flexible as this is a difficult time for us and our children.”
Teachers Prepare for '21st Century Learning'
At CCA, four teachers took master’s classes to “better prepare our teachers for 21st-century learning and teaching, and ready them for the Google-certified educator level one and two exams,” noted John Spriggs, school administrator. “Through the classes, teachers have learned a lot of engaging techniques, which the students will enjoy in the classroom.
“As a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school, we are incorporating more online learning and collaboration in the classroom,” he added. “All students receive their own school email address and Chromebook and complete many of their assignments through Google Classroom. Students also are trained how to use online apps to complete research, classwork, and projects.”
CCA’s hybrid program (https://bit.ly/3gDgg5k) was not designed as a result of COVID-19, but approved by the board of directors, in January, Spriggs said. Students will complete the same work in the hybrid program as traditional students.
“We have worked with our curriculum publishers to ensure that the program will run smoothly and learning will continue as normal, whether a child is in our traditional or hybrid program,” he said.
The hybrid program isn’t designed so parents can work when the students are home, according to Spriggs. “We expect a parent to be home with the student on the days that the student is home,” he explained. “It is a comprehensive program where the student will watch the lesson online and complete all the same classwork and homework that our students in the classroom will complete. We suggest parents set a schedule for when the student is at home, and we can help with that, but the work can be done at any time, as long as it is turned in before the due date.”
If the hybrid program doesn’t work, they are still providing five-day-a week instruction in the classroom. Spriggs pointed out there are “a lot of working parents looking for a five-day-a-week option for both school and day care, and we will run the school operations similar to the summer camp program we ran this year."
Enrollment is up “a little bit from last year, but our numbers for preschool and pre-K are down,” Spriggs said. “Younger parents seem to be keeping their young children home if possible.
“We are planning on opening up our Early Learning Center for infants and toddlers, in September,” he said. “The building plans have been approved by the city and the remodel has begun. Our research has shown that there is a need for child care for infants and toddlers, and parents would like to be able to keep all of their children together in one location and we have growth potential in our Early Learning Center.”
Spriggs said the school has enough personal protective equipment (PPE), “although it can’t always be found the first time you look for it. We have ordered extra alcohol wipes and gowns when we could find them available. Dojo Sewing Ministry, from the Lighthouse Church, donated cloth masks for students and adults for our summer program, which we’ve used. We also have a supply of disposable masks for anyone who needs one.
"We use a commercial cleaning company for cleaning supplies, including hand sanitizer, soap and sanitizer, and mop supplies. We have also purchased individual supplies for each child to minimize sharing of learning and art supplies.”
They have a “few staff in the at-risk category,” according to Spriggs, and “they have been comfortable fulfilling their positions through the precautions which the school is taking at our summer camp, which will continue into the school year.”
Safety's a Priority
On-campus instruction at Atlantic Cape is limited for student’s and faculty’s protection, according to Erin Mercer, public relations manager. “Safety for everyone is our top priority while delivering quality education to our students. We have staggered our in-person classes and we will deep clean the rooms in between sessions. Most internal meetings will be remote.”
Atlantic Cape will be providing face masks so students on campus will have access to PPE. Students and faculty will be required to wear a face mask at all times and maintain social distancing guidelines set forth by the CDC, she added.
“We have configured the desks to be 6 feet apart,” she said.
The school also installed plexiglass in the student services area, and have placed hand sanitizer stations throughout each campus.
“It will be mandatory for students, faculty, and staff to fill out a self-assessment form to determine if they are displaying any COVID-19 symptoms,” Mercer said. “If they are, they will be denied entry into Atlantic Cape until their conditions improve. All people who enter any of our campuses must wear a face mask.”
While Atlantic Cape moved all its classes online in the spring and summer, new students enrolling in the fall (https://bit.ly/2D4HfsN) will need to be educated about their different formats, according to Mercer.
“Our goal is that this semester all students feel supported every step of the way,” she said.
Online classes use Blackboard Learn to receive lessons and assignments from a professor and to turn in assignments, she noted. Courses are guided by the professor and due within the individual professor’s timeline.
“Remote learning allows students to connect with their professors while they guide them through coursework,” she said. “These classes will meet at specific times and include group meetings.”
Hybrid courses are a combination of online and face-to-face instruction.
“The reaction has been very positive since our return to campus plan was developed with input from over 50 faculty and staff members,” Mercer said. “We also surveyed students for their perspectives.
“We knew early that leaders and representatives from every department needed to be involved in the process to make our safety measures a success,” she added. “Everyone is going above and beyond their traditional duties to ensure the safety measures are ready on the first day we open our doors to students.”
Additional School Funding Announced
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Aug. 26 additional school funding to help defray costs related to the pandemic (https://bit.ly/2D9s4Pe). He said school aid would “remain at record levels” for the coming year, in addition to providing an additional $68 million to support pre-K programs, $10 million of which is targeted to expand programs into new towns.
He also announced $100 million in COVID-19 relief funds to help defray schools’ costs of reopening, with all the extra safety precautions brought by the pandemic.
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