IRVINGTON, NJ — As summer continues to wind down, school districts are refining their plans to get children back into school buildings this fall, despite the lingering effects of COVID-19. Even as vaccine numbers continue to increase — though not as quickly in certain areas of the country, or in black and brown communities — the dangers of the new COVID-19 delta variant continue to make headlines. Though the state mandated in the spring that all public schools needed to resume full in-person instruction this coming fall, school districts are now forced to imagine what a safe return to the classroom for all students looks like.
In the Irvington Public School District, Superintendent of Schools April Vauss said the district is still looking to comply with the state mandate for full in-person lessons and is looking forward to seeing students in person again.
“As of now, all learning will be full in person, with the exception of medically fragile children,” Vauss said on Aug. 2, explaining that these vulnerable children will still have the option of remote learning. “However, with the rise in the number of COVID cases, particularly the delta variant, the likelihood of a shift is highly probable.
“We have a new norm,” she continued. “There is social distancing when possible and less in-person interaction when possible. The buildings are cleaned more often, and we ensure that everyone is wearing masks and/or face shields. Other than protocols, everything is the normal opening process.”
While Vauss is hoping things remain on track for full in-person instruction, she and the district are planning ahead in case those plans get derailed due to rising COVID cases.
“We have put in place a one-on-one device system for parents needing/wanting to participate,” Vauss said. “We will have computers for students to use in class and will loan computers to students to use at home through a parental insurance program. If we have to shut down suddenly or with short notice, we will be able to immediately shift to virtual or hybrid learning.”
To ease the minds of parents sending their children back to school this fall, the district has implemented physical barriers and is promoting vaccination for those who are eligible.
“Each classroom has a shield around the student desk, except for pre-K and kindergarten,” Vauss said. “Also, we are contact tracing all areas of the school and any visitors who enter the building. Further, we are limiting the time and frequency for time in the building and interactive activities when possible.
“We have and will continue to promote vaccination,” she continued. “We have offered access locally for all members of our staff to be vaccinated. While it is our hope for as many people to be vaccinated as possible, there are no plans for mandates at the school level.
“I do strongly believe in testing mandates and am still mulling the possibility of mandating testing for those who have not been vaccinated and/or have not provided proof of their vaccination,” she added.
According to Vauss, she understands that some parents may still be apprehensive to send their children back to the classroom in the fall. She wants parents to know that the Irvington School District is doing everything it can to protect the health of its students and staff. Additionally, to Vauss, tackling the virus during this upcoming school year means not skimping on safety measures.
“I assure parents that we will not compromise their child’s health and safety by ensuring that we have ventilation and cleaning that is second to none,” Vauss said. “Moreover, we will continue to offer their children and their families opportunities to be vaccinated. My hope is that, come Sept. 7, the Irvington Public Schools will be full time in person and that every child and family will feel safe and secure within their respective classrooms.
“We will tackle COVID-19 this time around by not skimping on the safety measures that we have put in place, such as the cleaning supplies, ventilation system, provision of personal protective equipment, (temperature) scanners, isolation monitors in every building, and districtwide contact tracing and quick response units, etc., to make each school a virtual — no pun intended — Fort Knox.”