Bloomfield BOE addresses what school this fall will look like

The Bloomfield Board of Education discusses the reopening of schools at its meeting on Aug. 24.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield Board of Education discussed the full-time return to in-person classes at its Aug. 24 meeting, as the Bloomfield School District prepares to reopen to all students every day for full days of school for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The first day of school is Sept. 8.

“It is important for all of you to realize that, as a local school board, we make our decisions in concert with directives we receive from both the state and federal agencies, particularly the New Jersey state Department of Education and our local health department,” Superintendent Sal Goncalves said at the meeting. “At this juncture, I am confident that we will be returning to live classroom instruction in September, but my best advice at this moment is to be vigilant and flexible as we await potential directives that may alter our planned learning module.”

Each staff member and student will be required to wear a mask throughout the school day. Daily COVID questionnaires, temperature screenings, reporting and quarantine protocols will be in place. At this time, there will be no virtual alternative to in-person classes unless a health condition has been confirmed with a doctor’s note.

“Bloomfield will comply with the governor’s order,” Goncalves said about staff members being vaccinated; Gov. Phil Murphy announced Aug. 23 a mandate that all school staff be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or undergo regular testing.

“If you feel frustrated at this juncture, please know that I share your sentiments,” Goncalves said. “My best advice at this time is to stay focused; continue to heed the good, commonsense advice of our health professionals; stay safe; and remain open-minded that any adjustments to the plan will be made solely with the goal of ensuring that you and your family members continue to stay healthy.”

According to Bloomfield Health Officer Mike Fitzpatrick, Bloomfield had only two active cases of COVID-19 in the week prior to the meeting.

“We all know that case counts are on the rise,” Fitzpatrick said at the meeting. “Last week’s case count in Bloomfield was only two active cases. I just want to put in perspective for residents and say not to panic, we’re not having surges like we had 14, 15, 16 months ago.”

Fitzpatrick reiterated the same pandemic-era rules that have become the norm: frequent hand washing, social distancing, wearing a mask and getting vaccinated.

“We’re trying to minimize this as best as possible, and by following the plan that was created, it really does help to reduce the likelihood of transmission in the classroom,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re excited that we can go back to a classroom this year and have an effective way to teach and educate, while at the same time staying safe.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, many residents asked about social distancing measures that will take place during the school day, in addition to asking for a hybrid learning option for families that don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school full-time and in person.

“Right now, we’re under a mandate from the governor of New Jersey and the Department of Education to provide a full day of in-person instruction for all students,” Assistant Superintendent Joe Fleres said at the meeting. “That is not a local decision; that’s a mandate from the governor of New Jersey, and we are in compliance with that. We plan on being in compliance with that when we open on Sept. 8.”

Each school in the district has a pandemic response team made up of stakeholders in the school, and Fleres said those teams are making plans for how social distancing will work in classrooms that don’t have enough space for individuals to spread 6 feet apart.

“They’re working diligently and have been since the end of last school year when the governor made it clear that we’ll be going to school all day in person,” Fleres said. “They’re currently working on those plans, and I can assure you that, to the best of our abilities, we will be spacing out and being very creative. It might not be the classrooms that we are used to with all the things in the rooms and the pleasantries you may see, but we will ensure that we are socially distanced to the best of our abilities in all of our schools using all of our resources.”