As schools prepare to reopen this fall, there are countless factors to consider, like classroom size to accommodate social distancing, staffing and budget limitations and parent perspectives.
“I think that they need it. They miss their friends. They miss their teachers,” said parent Heather Madigan. “The remote learning just doesn’t cut it for what they need at this point right now. And I think it’s putting a strain on everyone’s families who are trying to work, or who have other kids at home who they need to attend to.”
“The commissioner on Friday was very clear that the schools have to plan to reopen in some way. But again, they put it back onto the districts to take a look at their districts, take a look at their busing, take a look at your numbers, take a look at your facilities to see what is possible,” said New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan.
Jennifer Gupta is waiting to see what her district in Verona presents before deciding whether to send her kids back.
“I’m very very hopeful, but if I don’t feel comfortable, I won’t,” she said. “But, you know, on the other side of that, if I make that choice because I’m not comfortable, that’s one less kid that has to be worried about. And then that might make room for another kid.”
West Orange School District Superintendent Scott Cascone said his district is taking a close look at student groups and programs that really need to be on site on a daily basis.
“My vision on moving forward is right now, it’s that virtual becomes our foundation whereby that continues to be the predominant mode of instructing,” he said. “And so we look at our self-contained special education populations, we look at our ESL population, we look at students who are being retained going into next year, we look at students who have been identified at tier 3 of RTI, response intervention or remediation, as students that would be more critical to be on site on a regular basis.”
That’s a model that Gupta, who’s a stay-at-home mom, says would work for her kids. Her now seventh and fourth graders did very well learning from home, but her now third grader had a harder time.
“She is also the type of child that requires someone to be with her, and someone to guide her and someone to help her. And so that was definitely my experience, and this idea that I’m hearing a little buzz about is make all the schools for elementary level. Maybe you add in special services where the children who need the face-to-face can get it. And then you can leave the rest of the kids who are out there home and remote,” she said.
Madigan says she’d be OK with a hybrid model.
“The fact that they would be in school for some of the time, I think that that would definitely help, not only academically, but also social and emotionally, just them being with their peers and having those in-real-life interactions,” she said.
But for working parents who have to send their kids back, West Orange plans to work with the local YMCA.
“They would actually be getting support and doing the work that was being pushed out, and we might even have the opportunity for some of our teachers to be pushing in and supporting them as well,” Cascone said.
He says creating the plans is a months-long process that’s due in just three weeks.