Bayonne schools plan for all virtual learning in the fall

Parent Anthony D’Amico has mixed feelings about his school in Bayonne going all virtual in the fall.

“It’s tough because I want my son back in the class, but then do I send him, and my daughter’s home, and then he comes home and then now she gets it, and she’s the one that is probably the most susceptible out of all of us,” he said.

D’Amico’s son receives special services that he missed in the spring, but his daughter has asthma and breathing challenges that put her at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

“As long as it’s not like what happened in the spring where no teachers, or very minimal teachers outside of the specialists, did live instruction. As long as there’s live instruction where there’s interaction with the teacher then I’m all for it,” he said.

Bayonne presented three plans to the state: an all virtual option, a hybrid, and a full in-person plan.

“The plan that we’re hoping gets approved is that the district remain all virtual,” said Bayonne Superintendent John Niesz

Niesz has a law enforcement background, which gives him a unique perspective in the planning process.

“In our decision making, what we decided was we would conduct what’s called a readiness drill, or a red drill. We had 30 teachers as actors and they portrayed high school students. And we also had all of our administrators, approximately 42 administrators, all of our security, our nurses, and we came in and we simulated what would school look like from morning, to the class, to actual dismissal. And through that exercise we found that we have some serious challenges that need to be mitigated,” he said.

Bayonne Board of Education President Maria Valado participated and says it was eye-opening.

“It was 16 minutes for 30 adults to come into the building through the temperature checks and the distancing that they had to have. And if it’s only 30 adults and it took us 16 minutes, how do we do it with children when it’s about 200 coming in?” she asked.

They also found that the time it took to transition throughout the day limited the amount of teaching in an already shortened 4-hour day. Valado said social distancing proved difficult.

“We were doing drills, and we knew it was a drill, yet people were interacting in the hallway, shaking each other’s hands, giving each other high fives, which is absolutely normal for children to do from pre-K all the way up to high school,” she said.

Niesz says it’s not realistic to expect social distancing from teachers, especially those of students with disabilities who require physical support.

“The educators who are hands-on, who pat the kids on the back, who grab their hand, who hold their hand, who have social-emotional issues, we’re telling them, ‘Remember, you have to be safe. You have to keep your distance,'” Niesz said.

But Bayonne’s virtual plan will be hard for students whose parents work.

“The student would be learning in real time with the teacher during the day and going through their normal school schedule,” Niesz said. “We’re holding summer courses for our community, for our parents, for their caregivers, to learn how to do virtual learning online and how to help.”

The district would like to reevaluate the plan every month to determine when to start letting kids back in buildings, but it’ll all depend on state approval.