Glen Ridge superintendent presents district reopening plan

Glen Ridge Superintendent Dirk Phillips presents the district’s reopening plan to the Board of Education on July 27.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge School District Superintendent Dirk Phillips presented the district’s reopening plan for September at the Board of Education’s July 27 meeting, a month after Gov. Phil Murphy announced that schools would resume in-person learning after being forced to move online because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Each school district in the state is deciding what reopening looks like in their community.

To develop the plan, Glen Ridge created nine subcommittees, each focusing on a different aspect of reopening the schools in the fall. The subcommittees are special education, facilities, wellness, health and safety, instruction/assessment, technology, operations, co-curricular childcare and district reopening. The plan is broken down into four phases, looking ahead to a full, normal school day.

“We really let health and safety drive where we were heading,” Phillips said at the meeting while presenting the plan. “We wanted to balance that, obviously, with a rich academic experience. But the health and safety of our staff and students came first and foremost when we started talking about reopening the schools in the fall.”

In phase one, in which Glen Ridge will open the school year, students are split into alternating groups of in-person and virtual instruction. They’ll attend school on a shortened schedule. Students in preschool through second grade will attend either morning or afternoon sessions, while students in third through sixth grade will be in the school buildings on a rotating “A” and “B” day schedule from 8:30 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. Middle school and high school students will do the same thing, but their half days will run from 8 a.m. to 12:40 p.m.

The second phase of the reopening plan would see all students return to school on a shortened schedule. Phase three would allow them to be in school for a full day, and the final phase would allow for indoor extracurricular activities to resume.

Phillips talked about the possibility that the district would have to return to an all-virtual learning model, and how the district would handle technology in the event that happens.

“It could happen in a variety of ways,” he said. “It could be that we have a classroom quarantined for two weeks so that classroom might be virtual. It might be that we have a building that closes down for a two-week time period. Or it could be that the state moves to a virtual-only experience. We need to make sure our students and staff are prepared for that.”

Health and safety guidelines were also included in the presentation. A major change is the elimination of large congregations of students; there will be no lunch or recess during phases one and two. There will be separate entrances to the school building for each grade level, and there will be staggered dismissals.

Before entering the buildings, students and staff will be subject to temperature checks, and they must use hand sanitizer when entering or exiting a classroom. All students and staff are required to wear face masks unless “individual health conditions dictate otherwise.” For ventilation purposes, windows and classroom doors will remain open.

Quarantine areas will be established in each school building for students with COVID-19 symptoms. The Bloomfield Board of Health will conduct contact tracing.

“The district will follow New Jersey’s updated guidelines for quarantining students and staff upon their return from areas identified by the state as having a high incidence of COVID-19,” the presentation said.

Social distancing will be in effect when students and staff are in the buildings, and cleaning will happen in between. Plexiglass will be installed in offices for extra protection.

A survey sent out to each family in the district asked parents how likely they are to send their child to school in September. Parents at all five schools had the choice of answering “highly likely,” “likely” or “unsure.” Most parents chose “unsure”; neither “highly likely” nor “likely” received a response rate of higher than 10 percent. Families have the option of all-virtual learning.

“How we’re operating during the school day and what type of program we offer as far as all-virtual will depend on how many parents are deciding to keep their kids home for that experience,” Phillips said. “We have two situations that could influence our plan that we’re closely monitoring and will get additional information in the coming weeks to make sure that we’re making the most sound decision.”