I hope this letter finds you and your families well. The New Jersey Department of Education released guidance on Friday, June 26 for schools to determine their reopening plans. This guidance provided several mandates, many suggestions, and some flexibility for districts to develop plans for their communities. It clearly answered three main questions:
- Schools will reopen for in-person instruction in the fall.
- All students must wear a face covering when physical distancing of six feet is not possible (unless prohibited from doing so because of a medical condition).
- All faculty and staff must wear masks (unless prohibited from doing so because of a medical condition).
Committees have been meeting over the past three months to generate Rutherford’s reopening plans, and they have focused on this core goal: Bring all students to school as much as possible while preserving the safety of all students and staff in the school environment. Every classroom in the District has been measured to determine the maximum number of students it can accommodate while maintaining six feet of distance between them.
We are developing a thorough plan that meets all of the state mandates and suggestions. If you look at the state guidelines, you will see that it covers every operational aspect of the District. The completed plan will be submitted to the Department of Education for its review and approval, and that plan will be shared with you no later than August 8.
To provide you with as much time as possible to prepare for the coming year, I want to share our intentions regarding reopening plans for students. Please remember that these are just the basic tenets of these plans, and there will be many pages of details to follow. Also, all plans will be subject to additional input and approvals from the Department of Education.
Schedule: Grades PK-3
We are able to make accommodations in classrooms and schedules to safely have all PK-3 students in school daily.
- Students in pre-kindergarten programs will follow the normal daily schedule.
- Kindergarten will revert to a half-day program with morning and afternoon sessions. When regulations allow, we will return to full-day kindergarten.
- Students in grades 1-3 will attend school for a full day five days a week. As noted, the full plan will indicate how students will have minimal movement between rooms throughout the day, and how room utilization, staffing assignments, and changes to the lunch schedule will allow for proper social distancing.
Schedule: Grades 4-12
Due to enrollment, building size and classroom size, as well as the daily academic schedule, students in these grades will follow a hybrid model of on-site and distance learning. Additionally, these grade levels will follow a one-session day schedule. Students will be placed into two cohorts. We will make every attempt to arrange the cohorts by alphabet so that siblings across the District will follow the same schedule. Students will be placed into two cohorts named “Blue” and “Bulldog.” “Blue” will attend school on Monday and Wednesday. “Bulldog” will attend school on Tuesday and Thursday. Fridays will alternate week to week. On days that their cohort is not in the building, students will log in for lessons via distance learning.
Students in a self-contained special education class and in the Bulldog Academy will attend school for a full-day, normal bell schedule five days a week. This arrangement is in line with the programming needs for students. Additionally, these class sizes are smaller and can properly social distance.
We recognize that the schedule for grades 4-12 will present difficulties for some families, but it is required for student and staff safety. The 50-percent reduction of students will allow for proper social distancing. Without adequate space in cafeterias, an open lunch period at the High School, and the inability to have lunch in the classroom at these grade levels, the elimination of lunch is an essential component of the plan. The abbreviated day for students will allow teachers to devote time to virtual instruction for the students who are working at home each day. The earlier dismissal of students will provide additional time to sanitize the school buildings on a daily basis, as Pierrepont, Union, and the High School are our largest buildings.
Face coverings: Schools operate a wide range of classroom settings, including science labs, small-group instruction spaces, classrooms of various square footage based on age of buildings, and so forth. Although we will have six feet of physical distancing in classrooms, we will require face coverings for all students while in classrooms when they are out of their seats, in hallways, offices, and other common areas. Again, accommodations will be made for students with certain medical or other conditions that preclude the use of face coverings. We will also implement additional physical spacing measures in classrooms, hallways, and other spaces.
Transportation is a challenge for a variety of reasons. Our final plan will include information regarding social distancing and personal protection equipment when students are required to be bused. When schools open this fall, the district will not offer subscription busing. We know that this is a hardship for families who have relied on this service, so we are communicating this as early as possible. If you have registered for the bus, you will receive more information regarding the bus and your deposit.
Health Screenings: We are finalizing a procedure regarding health screenings on a daily basis for students, faculty, and staff. Once that is finalized, we will communicate it.
I must stress that this is not the plan for the entire academic year. It is my hope that the day will come when “normalcy” returns. We know that we might also have to take a step back. Rutherford will be ready for whatever the next phase brings.
Parent To-Do List
While we understand some of the hardships involved in anything less than a 100% return to school, we ask that you begin to make arrangements to help us bring students to school every day with safeguards and virus mitigation strategies in place.
- Find reusable/washable face coverings that your child is comfortable wearing, and gradually build up the amount of time they can tolerate wearing them.
- Ensure that you have a working thermometer in your home, personal supplies of hand sanitizer (alcohol-based) that your child can carry to school, and any other personal effects that you think will help your child feel comfortable back in a school environment. Although we will have hand sanitizer in every room, it would be good for students to have their own.
- Stay tuned, as we will communicate additional information about health and hygiene practices in the upcoming weeks.
I know that this is a lot to digest and may be subject to change. This message is not meant to be comprehensive, but to give advance warning for what we know now. Our full plan will address many other issues and considerations with respect to school routines, bell schedules, instruction and assessments, curricular resources, extracurricular activities, before and after care, technology support, health and hygiene practices, and more. We will deliver this information to you once the plan is approved.
Stay well and I hope you find some rest and relaxation as the summer continues.
Superintendent of Schools