The Vernon Township School District has altered its reopening plan and will continue the hybrid learning model through Thanksgiving break, Superintendent Karen D’Avino announced at last Thursday’s board of education workshop.
In-person after-school co-curricular activities began last week at Glen Meadow and Vernon Township High School.
Then, the week after Thanksgiving – starting Monday, Nov. 30 – grades 6 through 12 will spend a week on synchronous learning.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Sussex County and around the world. At the Vernon schools, teacher shields have not yet been delivered, and there are significant staff shortages.
D’Avino emphasized that the staff shortages are “no fault” of the teachers and staff.
She said in a Nov. 12 letter that, in the previous 24 hours, six staff members needed to be quarantined.
“When faculty or staff have to quarantine for 14 days, that means we have to sub,” D’Avino said. “A year ago, the district was short on subs. There has been a sub shortage for five or six years in New Jersey. Understandably it’s more difficult to find subs during Covid.”
Sussex County is currently under a yellow advisory and should the county go up to “orange,” the Sussex County Dept. of Health has advised schools to consider going fully virtual.
“I’m not saying we’re committing to that at this point, but it is something we’re monitoring closely,” D’Avino said.
School board member Theresa Scura-Coughlin asked why the district was going virtual for only one week after Thanksgiving, and not two.
D’Avino said the one-week time frame gives families – if exposed during a Thanksgiving gathering – time for symptoms to show up.
A need for flexibility
School board member Brad Sparta asked if going virtual through the Christmas break and coming back with more kids in school in January was worth it.
“We have not taken a single step forward since Sept. 1,” Sparta said. “The parents have been told three or four times that the plan is going to change for those that want to be in school.”
Instead of bringing all the kids together for half-days, Sparta suggested bringing the cohorts back for full days and tackling the lunch challenges with half the kids in the building.
Vernon Township High School had only one scheduled lunch period in 2020-21. He suggested restoring the four lunch periods to limit the number of students even further in the cafeteria at once.
“Everybody needs to be a little more flexible with these things,” Sparta said.
Ultimately, the reopening plan is the superintendent’s decision, but D’Avino said there will be further meetings with the Reopening Committee. She stressed the need to come to an agreement with the Vernon Township Education Association and move forward.
“Creating a plan based on things moving is very difficult to do,” D’Avino said. “We’re trying to take into consideration the needs of everyone. That includes our children, our family and our children and faculty. I’m sorry because I don’t want to disrupt people’s lives and I know I’ve done that time and time again with the changes, but it’s my responsibility to keep people safe and engaged and have some semblance of education.”
“We have not taken a single step forward since Sept. 1. The parents have been told three or four times that the plan is going to change for those that want to be in school.” Brad Sparta