Office of the Superintendent
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Dear West Long Branch School District Families
We hope that you have all enjoyed the first half of the summer, and that you are finding opportunities to relax and rejuvenate with friends and family. While we are certainly not looking to rush anyone through the joy of summer, this week marks the one-month countdown to our school reopening and I would like to take this midsummer opportunity to provide you with an update and some key reopening information. It has been an incredibly busy and productive summer here in the West Long Branch School District, and we've been working hard to provide excellent summer learning opportunities for our students and to prepare our schools to re-open for Fall 2021 as close to normal as possible while still incorporating layered health and safety measures.
As we've all learned, a lot can change in a month, and our reopening planning is still being refined. I am happy to provide some information below, but please know that this is a fluid situation. Please anticipate updated and finalized reopening information later this month, as well as a reopening presentation at the August 24th Board of Education meeting. I will also provide a recorded version of the same reopening presentation, including a voiceover explanation of the details, on the same day via the district website.
I hope that everyone continues to enjoy a fun and fantastic summer, and I sincerely look forward to my first full year as the lead learner in your amazing school district.
WLB SUMMER PROGRAMS
60 students in grades PreK-8 participated in our summer program this year. Preschool students had a great time participating in High Scope aligned learning activities and readiness lessons in small groups. As fans of our preschool program know well, our program prioritizes engagement, exploration, and enthusiasm to engage our youngest students in active learning. In grades K-8, students had access to daily English Language Arts (ELA) and math instruction in small groups, fun learning activities in large group, and individual one-on-one learning opportunities to strengthen their reading, writing, math computation, and problem solving skills.
FUNDATIONS READY TO RISE
A number of our rising first and second grade students participated in a series of 20 "Ready to Rise" sessions this summer, having fun and accelerating their foundational literacy skills, the early literacy concepts and skills which form the building blocks for all the learning that comes later. This new program provides targeted in-person instruction in decoding, transcription, and fluency skills. Depending on the grade level, these lessons included learning about phonemic awareness (the sounds that letters make), high frequency word recognition, letter formation (handwriting), spelling, punctuation, fluency, and more! We're very excited about the success of this brand-new program, and look forward to returning it next summer.
KEY REOPENING INFORMATION
- Our schools will be open for five full-days of instruction per week, including lunch
- As of now, the Governor maintains that there will not be a full-time remote/virtual learning option for families to select. We look forward to seeing all of our learners in-person!
- Courtesy busing is back!
- All students will continue to be eligible for free breakfast and lunch throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Look for sign-up forms from your school.
On June 28, 2021, Governor Murphy announced that the decision of whether to require the wearing of face masks in schools would be left up to local districts to decide. At the July 27th Board of Education meeting, I shared with the community that our district plan was to open schools with the wearing of face masks recommended, but not required for staff and students.
Ten days later, on August 6th, Governor Murphy announced and signed Executive Order 251, which states:
"All public, private, and parochial preschool programs and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools (collectively “school districts”), must maintain a policy regarding mandatory use of face masks by staff, students, and visitors in the indoor portion of the school district premises."
This executive order went into effect on August 9, 2021, and will remain in place until the order is revoked or revised.
I understand that this is not the news that many of us wanted to receive. I also understand that there may be some question of whether the district must comply with the Executive Order.
On 6/4/2021, a law (A5820/S3866) was passed to lift the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, allowing many of the Executive Orders to expire 30 days thereafter. This legislation also granted the Governor the right to retain the legislative (legal) authority to issue orders and directives related to the "implementation of any CDC recommendations to prevent the transmission of COVID-19." Reference
In short, the executive order has the force of law and the District is obliged to comply.
Until this mandate is either revoked or revised, the wearing of face masks will be required inside all school buildings with the following exceptions:
- When doing so would inhibit the individual's health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors;
- When the individual has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face mask without assistance;
- When a student's documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an IEP or 504 plan, precludes use of a face mask;
- When an individual is under two (2) years of age;
- When an individual is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating or drinking, or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by a face mask
- When the individual is engaged in high-intensity aerobic or anaerobic activity;
- When a student is participating in high-intensity physical activities during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals; or
- When wearing a face mask creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.
New Jersey has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the nation, and although we have seen the recent rise in case rates that caused Governor Murphy to issue this temporary order, I am hopeful that this is a short-term spike, and I believe that we will soon be able to enact our local decision. In the meantime, we are already taking steps to outfit additional sheltered outdoor spaces to accommodate frequent breaks and more outdoor time, and are looking closely at our available indoor spaces for mask breaks.
We recognize that this development will be upsetting information for some. Please note, I can only respond to questions and concerns that I know about, so I encourage you to reach out to me directly rather than engage in speculation.
We will continue to contact trace and quarantine students and staff when there are confirmed cases of COVID-19. It will not be the district's protocol, as it was at the beginning of last year, to quarantine entire classrooms or cohorts of students unless there are very rare extenuating circumstances as determined through consultation with the Monmouth County Health Department. Instead, close contacts shall be those individuals identified as having been within 6 feet of a confirmed positive individual for greater than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period. This 6-foot radius will be the criteria used to determine which close-contacts must quarantine from school.
Social Distancing (classrooms):
We have confirmed that most instructional spaces in the district can accommodate the recommendations in The Road Forward of at least 3 feet of social distance between students, and we will maintain that physical distancing to the greatest extent possible. We will keep seating charts to support contact tracing.
Regardless of whatever mask requirements might be in place at any point in the future, and regardless of an individual's comfort with mask wearing, lunch is the one time of day when all students must be unmasked. For Phase One of our reopening, we knew it would be important to accommodate 6 feet of social distance while eating to help prevent meal time from becoming another contact tracing consideration in the initial stages of reopening - thereby maximizing the number of students we keep in school with us at any given time.
We have ordered additional tables for the cafeteria, and also additional tables to create a second lunch space in the BME Gymnasium, where some classes will take turns eating during Phase One. Mr. Erhardt has worked hard to create a second lunch period for BME which will help reduce the number of students in lunch spaces at any given time. We have also arranged for the creation of a tented area with picnic tables for snack and/or meals, and as stated above we are looking into creating a second tented area to create even more sheltered outdoor spaces.
We will work with the Pandemic Response Team to ascertain the right time to move to Phase Two of lunch, which will entail the reduction of social distancing and the elimination of the second lunch space. Phase Three of lunch will entail the removal of social distancing requirements and static seating during lunch, and a full return to normal operations. We look forward to that day with great anticipation, and our goal is for it to occur within this school year.
For the most part, students at Betty McElmon are in cohorts by nature of their daily schedule structure. At Frank Antonides School, students will no longer be held in their static cohorts (with their teachers moving from room to room). Instead, students will move class to class and will no longer be cohorted.
One of the hallmark symbols of passage for a student moving from BME to FAS is the introduction of lockers. We are happy to share that this will be yet one more piece of normality returning to our schools, and we have been able to create a schedule and structure that will prevent locker time from becoming a factor in contact tracing.
Fall Sports and Clubs:
We believe that these extracurricular experiences are critical for our students' social and emotional well-being, particularly under the current circumstances. At this time, it is our intention to offer our full array of extracurricular activities for Fall 2021.
A Look Back at 2020-2021
WE CAN'T WAIT TO MAKE MORE BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES IN THE UPCOMING YEAR!
IMPORTANT UPCOMING DATES
8/31/2021 - Kindergarten Orientation, 1:30 or 3:00 PM, Betty McElmon Elementary School
9/08/2021 - First Day of School!
9/16/2021 - SCHOOL CLOSED (Yom Kippur)
9/20/2021 - FAS Back to School Night, 6:00 PM, Frank Antonides School
9/23/2021 - BME Back to School Night, 6:00 PM, Betty McElmon School
9/28/2021 - Board of Education Meeting, 7:00 PM, Betty McElmon Gymnasium (in-person)