As a follow up to last week’s letter dated February 17, 2021, I want to inform you of the results of the parent survey. Seventy-eight percent of the parents who took the survey indicated that they support a return to five-day-per-week in-person instruction for first through fifth grades. In addition to this feedback, our school district is continuously analyzing the health data that is available to us. I have met with our Pandemic Response Team and consulted with our District leadership to review the health data. Over the past three weeks, we have seen a dramatic decrease in COVID-19 activity. This is indicated by the recent New Jersey COVID-19 Activity Reports (https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/statistics/covid/). Since the holiday season, New Jersey and Gloucester County COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have continued to decrease as vaccinations are increasing.
With the information currently available, I am pleased to announce that we are developing a plan for transitioning our Elementary School students back to a five-day-per-week in-person instruction schedule. I am hoping this will be the first step back to normalcy for our District and, more importantly, for our students.
As we transition our students back, we will be taking some additional precautions. As I stated in my previous letter, social distancing will continue to be promoted, but it cannot be guaranteed. We will be adding desk shields to all classrooms as an additional layer of protection. We will also be implementing random temperature checks as students are entering the building. I am also asking for your support by not sending your children to school with a fever or cold-like symptoms. It is also imperative that you continue to fill out the AT-Genius questionnaire. In order for us to have a successful ending to the school year, your cooperation is vital.
We are targeting Monday, March 8th, to start the Phase 3 learning transition back. We will begin with first through third grades. If all goes well, we will bring back fourth and fifth grades starting Monday, March 22nd. I realize that separating the return dates may be inconvenient for some of our parents, but I believe it is prudent to take a measured approach to returning our students back to a five-day-per-week in-person schedule. For parents who do not wish to send their children to school five days per week, the Cyber School remote option will remain a choice. Mr. Uribe will be communicating additional scheduling details in the near future.
Finally, we will continue to evaluate the health and safety data. As I first indicated in our original back to school plan, we all need to be prepared to transition among the four phases of learning:
Phase 1 – all remote learning
Phase 2 – Blue/Gold hybrid learning
Phase 3 – five days per week reduced bell schedule learning
Phase 4 – full-time regular schedule
We have already experienced Phases 1 and 2 at various times this year. It is my hope that as we enter the spring season and as health conditions improve, we can have more students return to Phases 3 and 4. The health and safety of both students and staff will always be at the forefront of all decisions that are made. As long as our community health conditions continue to improve, I see no reason why we cannot attempt to increase the number of students returning to in-person learning. As I stated previously, we will need your help to make it happen. We encourage parents and students to continue following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promoted safeguards, such as:
- Staying home when you are sick;
- Washing hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds;
- Covering coughs and sneezes and properly disposing of tissues;
- Limiting close contact with people who are sick and not sharing food, drinks, and utensils;
- Practicing social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart);
- Wearing a face covering while in school; and
- Continuing to monitor your health for symptoms.
Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of mental health and social emotional learning (SEL) for our students. As we begin bringing students back, anxiety and school phobia may become an issue for your children. I am also conscious that many of our families have had their own COVID-19 burdens to bear. Some of us are struggling with illness and financial difficulties and maybe even a loss of a loved one. With this in mind, our District is preparing to increase our counseling efforts. Over the next several weeks, we will be increasing our counseling presence to provide our students with classroom workshops on selected topics. I am also encouraging you to reach out to the school if you or your family needs help. Taking care of the emotional needs of our children is as important as any academic subject that is taught in school.
As always, thank you for your support and remain Clipper Strong!!!!
Nikolaos C. Koutsogiannis
Superintendent of Schools