When New Jersey officials announced their expected guidelines on Friday to reopen public schools for the 2020-2021 school year, there was a big caveat: Schools don’t have to bring students back every day.
Instead, school districts may propose “hybrid” or “divided” schedules that could mean that only half or a third of students enter school buildings on alternate days or weeks, leaving the rest at home to continue “learning remote”.
Officials from various school districts, including West Orange, Mount Olive, Hopewell, Manville, Northern Valley Regional, and Denville, have already said they are considering versions of hybrid schedules. More districts are expected to follow.
Most said they are considering versions of schedules “A” and “B” in which only half of their students go to school on alternate days or weeks, so there is enough room for social distancing in classrooms.
“We are seeing a gradual approach to reopening our four buildings in September,” said Manville Superintendent Robert Beers. “We are looking at an A / B schedule, but we don’t know if it will be A days and B days, or a weekly schedule.”
Many school officials say the new state guidelines make it impossible for all students to attend classes every school day when schools reopen for the new year. The recommendations, outlined in the 104-page “The Road Back” report from the state department of education, say that classroom tables must be six feet away or have barriers between them. The guidelines also say that students must maintain a social distance at lunch, the gym, and on buses.
Most New Jersey classrooms are not configured to accommodate that type of space and few districts have enough buses to keep students sitting six feet away, school officials said. So that means that school officials must find a way to limit the number of students who enter their buildings each day.
State reopening guidelines suggest three alternatives:
–Six day rotation: No, it does not mean that classes will be offered six days a week. Under this plan, students in each grade are divided equally into three sections: a red team, a blue team, and a green team. Then each team rotates to school for face-to-face classes every third day. So on Monday or Day 1, the green team goes to school to spend the day in class with their teacher, while the red and blue teams stay home for remote learning. Tuesday, or day 2, it is the turn of the red team to go to class. The blue team enters on Wednesday, and so on. A six-day rotation means that the day of the week that students go to school or stay at home will change each week. But the system will accommodate the existing schedules of some districts, which already operate on six-day rotations for classes, specials, and extracurricular activities.
–A / B weeks per grade: Students go to school alternating weeks according to their grade. Therefore, in a high school, grades 9 and 10 would have in-person classes with their teachers for a full week designated as an “A” week, while grades 11 and 12 stay home for remote learning. The following week is a “B” week, so grades 11 and 12 go to school while the other grades stay home for 5 days. Keeping children in school or at home for longer periods “may provide educators with the opportunity to execute more comprehensive remote instruction in their alternate weeks,” according to state guidelines.
–A / B weeks in all grades: Students in each grade are divided into two teams. (Some districts have suggested that classes be split in half based on the first letter of the student’s last name.) One team goes to school for in-person class days during “A” weeks, while the other half of their class stays at home during distance education. Then they change for “B” weeks. Therefore, teachers only see half of their students for in-person classes each week.
It is up to each of New Jersey’s more than 500 school districts to develop the plan that best meets your needs. The only rule is that each school must have some in-person learning. Districts cannot continue to keep their schools closed while all students continue to learn at a distance every day, state officials said.
State guidelines recognize that hybrid options and split schedules can be difficult for families, especially those with young children who will need child care on alternate days or weeks that students are assigned remote learning. In many cases, an adult will also need to help elementary students with their remote school work during the days they are at home.
At Hopewell, district officials are considering a hybrid schedule. But, Superintendent Tom Smith said he is concerned about how families in the suburban Mercer County district will handle unusual hours.
“Let’s say (at) our high school, we divide it by last name and half would come Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the others would come Tuesday through Thursday, and they will change it next week,” Smith said. “If you are a working parent, what do you do with the students the other days? With the impact of child care, that’s a challenge for us. “
School districts have a few weeks to develop their reopening plans. They must inform students and their families of their schedules at least four weeks before school begins in late August or early September, state officials said.
NJ Advance Media Staff Writer Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed to this report.
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