Schools opt for half-day schedule amid rising COVID-19 concerns

Scott Cascone announces that the West Orange School District will operate on a half-day schedule from Tuesday, Jan. 4, to
Friday, Jan. 7.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange School District announced that the schools would be closed on Monday, Jan. 3, for a noninstructional emergency day, and the rest of the week would run on a half-day schedule, due to the spike in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant.

Full-day instruction will resume on Monday, Jan. 10. There is a possibility that students in middle and high school could pivot to a cohort model to decrease the number of people in the buildings, according to an announcement from Superintendent Scott Cascone on Dec. 30.

“As it is now evident, the number of daily cases of COVID-19 are presently at nearly all-time highs,” Cascone said. “While by most accounts, the hospitalizations, ICU admissions and fatalities remain relatively low as compared to previous spikes, we may all surmise that quarantines associated with confirmed cases and close contacts will continue to be a disruptive force to the daily effective and safe operations of our schools.”

The Monday, Jan. 3, emergency noninstructional day was to allow administrators and nursing staff to account for newly disclosed cases of the virus among staff and students, contact trace them and make substitute staffing arrangements. It also allowed families to make child care arrangements and obtain any technology they need.

“The school district is strongly encouraging all students and staff members to secure a PCR test in advance of returning to school on Jan. 4,” Cascone said. “This remains an effective precautionary measure to ensure that, upon our return on Jan. 4, we minimize disruptions due to quarantining and ensure the greatest degree of health and safety.”

Half-day preschool students at the Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center will be in class from 8:45 to 10:45 a.m. or 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Full-day preschool students will be in class from 8:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will be in class from 8:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.; lunch will be served to students in kindergarten through second grade, while third- through fifth-graders will be given a grab-and-go lunch.

Middle school students will be in class from 8:10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and high school students will be in class from 7:30 a.m. to noon. All extracurricular activities and events on those days have been canceled, and lunch will not be served, as is standard practice on a half-day schedule.

The reason for the half-day schedule is “to reduce the amount of time in the buildings and, in most school settings, remove lunch as a consideration, where students tend to be more closely oriented and without masks, and also provide additional time to clean and sanitize buildings, execute all contact-tracing procedures through to fruition, and ensure schools are properly staffed for the following day,” Cascone said.

When classes resume in person on Monday, Jan. 10, parents will have the option to elect for their child to remain virtual through the following Friday, Jan. 14. If they choose to do so, they must have a device to use at home while the district distributes their own.

“Teachers will share the Google Meet links via their Google classroom pages. Virtual learning will occur as it has been this year to date, with students learning from home, having a window or access to the daily proceedings of classroom instruction,” Cascone said. “Students in attendance virtually will be considered present. Students not in attendance either in school or virtually will be marked absent. The standard parental notifications will be sent.”

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they should not return to school in person until they have a negative PCR test. An antigen test will not be accepted.

“You may expect follow-up communication from building principals, with additional school-based information and advisories,” Cascone said. “We thank you for your continued patience and support as we navigate these unprecedented challenges.”