Orange School District’s concrete plan for September openings

Orange Public School District Director Tina Powell speaks during a virtual meeting on Friday, Aug. 14.

ORANGE, NJ — In an expansive virtual meeting via Zoom on Aug. 14, Orange Superintendent of Schools Gerald Fitzhugh II and Director Tina Powell spoke about the impending school openings set for this September, despite the coronavirus scare plaguing the nation.

“School starts Sept. 8,” Fitzhugh said. “I am extremely excited about that start of the school year. The start of the school year is a new birth. I call it a new beginning. Even though we’re going to begin virtually, I’m able to see the students and staff. We’ll be able to put our hands on them, we’ll be able to have socio-emotional support services for the staff and students. Just because we’ll be in a virtual space, it doesn’t mean we won’t be able to celebrate an opening of the Orange Public School family.”

Fitzhugh said the district’s plan will provide relief to both parents and teachers.

“We’ve selected Plan B, which is the decelerated model,” Fitzhugh said. “We presented that on Aug. 10 at the town hall and Board of Education meeting as well. Powell and I looked at all the data points, and that’s how Plan B came into fruition.”

Orange has four phases within its hybrid approach.

 “Phase 1 being the virtual learning approach, which is 100 percent. This will begin on Sept. 8 and move through Oct. 2, which is a four-week period within the virtual space,” Fitzhugh said. “Synchronized learning will be the primary modality of instruction. What that means is that there’ll be real-time instruction for students by their classroom teachers, who will be in front of them every single day.

“Phase 2, the remote synchronous, will begin on Oct. 5 and will conclude on Nov. 25,” he continued. “Within that paradigm, the teachers will return to school buildings, and they will then begin to teach in their classrooms. Each principal has submitted what classrooms will be used for Phase 2 through Phase 4. Through Phase 2, teachers are on site two days per week, providing virtual instruction. The most important piece is that teachers will be in their classrooms doing the synchronous learning approach through teaching and learning.

“Phase 3 is a soft launch,” he continued. “Through the soft launch, everyone has done a great job identifying students who are at risk. Our English-language-learner students, our students with disabilities, and we’ve also identified students who were audited off virtual learning from March 17 through June 24 and we need to get them back into the building. We’re only going to have 25 percent of the population in the building to again provide safety protocols ensuring the health and safety of all staff and students. Masks will be worn; temperature checks and social distancing will be implemented.

“Phase 4 is our full re-entry,” he concluded. “That’s going to be Jan. 4, 2021. Students will be on-site with staggered schedules. So, again you have your morning session with a group of kids and then your afternoon session with a different group of kids. Schooling will be Monday and Tuesday on-site. Wednesday will be a cleaning day. A second group of kids, which is different from the first group, will be in on Thursdays and Fridays.”

Powell prefers Plan B to Plan A, which was driven by the state government urging in-person learning.

 “Plan A was in response to getting students back on-site more quickly. That was the direction a lot of districts were tending to, bringing our students back earlier and not having the full scope of information as applied to the infection rates and positivity rates,” Powell said.

“Fitzhugh suggested early on that we needed to be able to pivot if needed,” she continued, stressing the need for a plan that would address student and teacher safety and well-being, as well as the possibility that state COVID-19 numbers did not get better. “So, Fitzhugh early on said that we need to introduce a second plan into the conversation. That’s why we named Plan A and Plan B accelerated and decelerated.”

According to Powell, Plan A is described as accelerated, as it gets students back in the building a lot earlier. Plan B, the plan ultimately chosen by Fitzhugh, is decelerated, as this chosen plan allows the district to stagger building entry so it’s not as aggressive.

“One of the board members actually referred to Plan B as the compassionate plan,” Powell added. “She called it that because, again, it slows down re-entry, it focuses more so on the health and well-being of our students and staff. To be honest, I thought that was genius on Superintendent Fitzhugh’s part, just recommending that there be two plans so that we had options.”

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