WEST ORANGE, NJ — At the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Aug. 30, West Orange School District Superintendent Scott Cascone spoke about the reopening of schools on Thursday, Sept. 9, saying that this school year will resemble those from before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools. One major difference is that students and staff will have to wear masks while in the buildings.
“I think one of the students said it best, after I had gone through questions and answered them,” Cascone said at the meeting about a conversation he had had at West Orange High School’s freshman orientation. “They said, ‘So it’s normal school with masks?’ And with some qualifications, that is essentially what it is.”
He described what a regular school day will look like this year, from the moment students get on the bus in the morning to the moment they get back on it at the end of the day to go home. Masks will be required to get on the bus; drivers will have masks on hand for students who do not have them.
“The buses will be, in most cases, at full occupancy,” Cascone said. “But again, students will be wearing masks on the bus and the windows will remain open as much as possible, weather permitting, to ensure ventilation, even during the coldest of months.”
Students will enter their school buildings as they normally would; the district will not be conducting temperature checks as students go inside.
“At least at this point in time, we will not be doing thermal screenings to enter the building,” Cascone said. “In speaking with our health advisory board, they have shared with us that, as our community remains in the moderate range, we can feel comfortable not doing the thermal screenings. That being said, as with many of the things we’re doing this year, if the level of community transition rises into the higher levels, that might be an additional safety protocol that we need to put in place.”
Staff will be at the entrances and in the hallways, to monitor and to make sure there is no crowding. Schools will have decals on the floors indicating walking directions.
“We want to try and eliminate as much as possible the mingling and mixing that occurs in the hallways,” Cascone said.
Social distancing in classrooms will be done to the best of that class’s ability; some classes are smaller, and students will have an easier time spreading out. At least 3 feet of distance will be kept between students, and masks will be worn at all times.
“All of our classrooms, particularly in the secondary level, will have alcohol-based wipes, in which students will be asked to wipe their tabletop or technology device down before using it,” Cascone said. “We also will have hand-sanitizing stations in all of the classrooms.”
Learning in classrooms will look very similar to what it did before the pandemic, according to Cascone. There will be group and pair work, and lab tables will be utilized.
Cascone also addressed lunch, which was not part of the hybrid in-person days that West Orange operated with for much of the last school year. Both breakfast and lunch will be served this year, but, at least for the time being, they will be grab and go.
“There will be multiple locations in the school where there will be cold lunches and cold breakfast that students will take,” Cascone said, adding that building principals have been working on figuring out how to space students apart while eating. They have to be 6 feet apart without masks or 3 feet apart with a barrier between them.
“In many cases, there are multiple locations in the school where students will eat,” he said. “At times, that very well could be outside. But the overall thing you need to understand is that we will serve and students will be safely distanced apart while eating. When at all possible, we will attempt to keep students with the same students, so that we can facilitate contact tracing. All spaces in which students will eat in school will be sanitized in between sessions, when there are multiple cohorts eating in the same space.”
At the meeting, Cascone also addressed how physical education classes will work, the virtual learning that will happen if a student tests positive and needs to quarantine at home for two weeks and social-emotional learning. The full meeting can be viewed at www.youtube.com/channel/UCqoIb5fNVRqcnGt7CWxSGUQ/featured. A shorter, 15-minute version of Cascone’s walkthrough of what the school day will look like can be found there as well.