Important Message About the Reopening of School

Dear Parents/Guardians, Staff and Community,

This letter is being sent first as a way of introduction.  I have recently been appointed by the Board of Education as the Interim Superintendent of Schools effective July 1st.  I have been contracted to serve in this capacity for the period of one year, or until a permanent superintendent is appointed.  It is my hope that I will help to continue the work of my predecessor while taking on the task of reopening our schools.

Throughout the spring, the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District staff have been diligently working on closing out the school year and focusing on reentry in the fall. Governor Murphy released guidelines (The Road Back:  Restart and Recovery Plan for Education) on June 29, 2020. Within the document it states, "Districts’ reopening plans must account for resuming in-person instruction in some capacity." My immediate focus as the new Interim Superintendent of Schools is to align the District’s previously-developed plans with the Governor’s newly-released guidelines. We will finalize a re-entry plan for the fall and inform parents during the first week of August. 

I have embarked upon conversations with Board of Education members, administrators, and teacher leaders. Our emphasis centers around three overarching themes which we continue to explore. They are:

  1. Reopening schools in the fall and providing for the basic health and safety needs of our children, as well as establishing an appropriate learning environment. 
  2. Creating conditions for the social-emotional learning which engages students, rebuilds relationships, and constructs the necessary foundation for academic learning.
  3. Supporting our adults and enhancing their capacity to help themselves, each other, and most importantly, our students.

As you know, school districts have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their students and staff; to that end we will follow The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education as an established set of statewide health and safety standards provided to schools by the New Jersey Department of Education. These standards reflect the recommendations of the New Jersey Department of Health and are informed by CDC guidance. 

We will be carefully reviewing The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education throughout the summer and fall to ensure that all reopening planning activities and 2020-2021 programs adhere to these standards while carefully considering its guidance. Each of these critical areas of operation will be addressed in our school district’s reopening plans. Below is an overview of the minimal requirements for each category.

  1. General Health and Safety Guidelines 
    • Establishing and maintaining communication with local and state authorities to determine current mitigation levels in your community 
    • Protecting and supporting staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as providing options for telework and virtual learning 
    • Following CDC’s Guidance for Schools and Childcare Programs 
    • Promoting behaviors that reduce spread: 
      • Stay home when appropriate 
      • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette 
      • Face coverings 
      • Signs and messages 
    • Reasonable accommodations should be provided for individuals including older adults and individuals with disabilities or serious underlying conditions
  2. Classroom, Testing, and Therapy Room
    • Allow for social distancing, 6 feet apart to the extent that is practicable
    • When 6 feet apart is not feasible, modifications can be considered:
      • Physical barriers between desks – all desks facing the same direction
      • Students sitting at tables on only one side, spaced apart
      • Face coverings required when 6 feet apart cannot be maintained
    • Use of shared objects should be limited or cleaned between each use
    • Indoor facilities should have adequate ventilation
    • Prepare and maintain hand sanitizing stations
    • Students should wash hands for at least 20 seconds regularly
  3. Transportation-Transporting students pose a particularly difficult challenge to restarting school operations. Districts will have to consider how to transport students to and from school while protecting the health and safety of those students. Some of the areas to consider
    • Maintain social distancing (at least six feet between riders) to the maximum extent practicable
    • If six feet social distancing cannot be maintained, a face covering must be worn by all students upon entering the bus 
  4. Student Flow, Entry, Exit, and Common Areas
    • School District Reopening Plans should establish the process and location for student and staff health screenings.
    • If physical distancing (six feet) cannot be maintained for individuals waiting in line to enter or exit buildings, face coverings will be required.
    • Physical guides, such as tape on floors/sidewalks, and signs on walls will be utilized to help ensure that staff and students remain at six feet apart in lines and at other times.
    • Creation of one-way hallways to ensure separation of students and staff
  5. Screening, PPE, and Response to Students and Staff Presenting Symptoms
    • School districts must adopt a policy for screening students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure.
    • School districts must adopt procedures for symptomatic staff and students.
    • Encourage parents to be on the alert for signs of illness in their children and to keep them home when they are sick.
    • School staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings unless doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or the individual is under two years of age.
    • Students are required to wear face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained.
    • If a visitor refuses to wear a face-covering for non-medical reasons and if such covering cannot be provided to the individual at the point of entry, entry to the school/district facility may be denied.
  6. Contact Tracing-Contact tracing is the process used to identify those who come into contact with people who have tested positive for many contagious diseases, including COVID-19. It is a long-standing practice in NJ and an integral function of the local health departments in keeping communities safe from disease. All school and district administrators, school safety specialist, and any other staff deemed appropriate by the school and district will continue to follow district practices in order to keep school communities safe from the spread of contagious disease. 
  7. Facilities Cleaning Practices
    • Develop a schedule for increased, routine cleaning and disinfection included in the district’s policy.
    • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces and objects frequently touched.
    • Sanitize bathrooms daily, or between each use as much as possible using protocols outlined by the EPA.
  8. Meals-If cafeterias or group dining areas are used: 
    • Stagger times to allow for social distancing, and clean and disinfect between groups. 
    • Discontinue family-style, self-service, and buffet. 
    • Clean and sanitize tables/surfaces between each meal service, pursuant to the protocols outlined here by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 
    • Space students at least six feet apart. 
    • Individuals must wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handing used food service items.
  9. Recess/Physical Education
    • Stagger recess. If two or more groups are participating in recess at the same time, they should have at least 6 feet of open space between them. 
    • Use cones, flags, tape, or other signs to create boundaries between groups. 
    • Always wash hands immediately after outdoor playtime. 
    • Stagger the use of playground equipment and establish frequent disinfecting protocols.
    • Complete an inventory of outdoor spaces (athletic fields, track, green spaces, open space, and local parks) and designate zones, use stations, mark off areas, floor markers, floor tape, poly spots, etc., to ensure separation among students (six feet for social distancing). 
    • Consider closing locker rooms to mitigate risk and prohibit students and staff from confined spaces with limited ventilation and/or areas with large amounts of high contact surfaces. 
      • If not feasible to close, stagger use and clean and disinfect between use. 
      • Students may be encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and safe footwear to school that allows for safe movement and is appropriate for the weather in order to participate in physical education without the use of a locker room. 
    • Mitigate risk, limit and/or eliminate direct contact with equipment (lessons with no equipment) and do not allow sharing of equipment. If equipment must be shared, clean and disinfect between each use. 
    • Designate specific areas for each class during recess to avoid cohort mixing. 
  10. Field Trips, Extra-Curricular Activities, and Use of Facilities Outside of School Hours
    • Adhere to all applicable social distancing requirements and hygiene protocol during any extra-curricular activities.
    • Require any external community organizations that use school/district facilities to follow district guidance on health and safety protocols.

In closing, I want to reassure our school community that in the process of developing plans for in-person re-entry in September we will keep a laser focus on safeguarding the health and welfare of our students and staff while striving to provide quality instruction that enables students to develop socially and emotionally. 

I would also like to acknowledge our Board of Education, administrators, teachers, and staff, for their tireless efforts and commitment to our students.  Although I am new to the district it is clear to me the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District staff has the talent, commitment, and energy to succeed in this endeavor.  

Lastly, in an attempt to receive input from the larger school community, I included a link to a survey and ask you to kindly participate in this endeavor by clicking here and completing the survey as soon as possible. The deadline for the survey is July 11.

For Survey in Spanish, click here.

Dr. Thomas Ficarra 
Interim Superintendent of Schools
 

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