(For a PDF version of this letter, please click here)
I hope that this communication finds you and your family healthy and enjoying the summer.
We are now less than three weeks away from the first day of school. The summer was spent with an unprecedented number of students in summer programs, a great deal of cleaning by our custodial staff, and a great deal of planning for September. I genuinely appreciate your patience, as this school year will bring new challenges as we try to provide the best educational experience for your children that we can.
Enclosed in this letter is a great deal of information, but it is not all of the information that you will need for September 7. Each school building will be sending out additional information for items that are school specific. You should see that information coming from your school offices in the next 10 days. It is important to note that some things in this letter may change before school begins as new rules or guidance comes down from the Governor, the NJ Department of Education, and the NJ Department of Health.
First and foremost, it is important to state that our highest priority is to provide the best educational experience for all students in a healthy, safe environment. These two often work together, but sometimes are in conflict. I hope that you will see that every decision that we have made is intended to keep students and staff safe while providing the best learning environment we can.
One topic on everyone’s mind is masks. Prior to Executive Order 251, we were prepared to implement daily procedures that had students wearing masks during arrival, dismissal, and while changing classes, but taking them off while in class. However, that changed in early August with the new order from the Governor’s office. EO 251 requires all students and staff to wear face masks inside our buildings regardless of vaccination status. Our Board of Education and administration is not permitted to enact or enforce any procedure that is in conflict with this order. Therefore, we must make the best educational decisions while adhering to this order.
I thought it best to “walk through the day” to address how each aspect of the day will work. Again, please keep in mind that some items will be school specific, and you will be receiving more information from your school office soon.
Student Health Survey – We will not be asking you to fill out a daily health form this year. The Health Department has conveyed to us that daily health forms and temperature checks have not helped in the battle against COVID-19 transmission and the best defense against community spread is good, common sense behaviors. If your child is experiencing symptoms that they may be ill, keep them home and call your doctor.
Bussing – All students eligible for bussing are being assigned a bus and a bus stop. Students will have an assigned seat on their bus. Students must be masked at all times on school buses as we have no way to safely distance on the buses.
Student drop-off – If you are driving your child to school, specific areas and times for student drop off will be communicated to you by your school.
Student movement – We will make every attempt to have students moving continuously once they are off their buses. Since being stationary in a crowd could contribute to virus transmission, we do not want students congregating at entrances, in the gym, or in the hallways. Once students are entering the school, they will continue directly to their classrooms and take their seats. The Middle School will have a schedule for locker visitation to avoid large, stationary crowds in the hallways.
Breakfast – Breakfast will be available to every student free of charge. We are still working out the logistics of this – how you sign up, how it is delivered – but it will be available in every classroom/homeroom at the start of the day. It will likely consist of a breakfast bar or similar non-perishable items.
THE SCHOOL DAY
Classrooms – Once in their seats in the classroom, the teachers will be employing strategies in class to have the most effective instruction with minimal and safe movement in the classroom. Desks will be spaced apart to the extent possible. Information on snacks, water, and “mask breaks” will be coming from your school as they will be different depending on the grade of your child. However, our intention is to make wearing the masks impact instruction as little as possible by providing safe opportunities for mask breaks.
Outdoors – When outdoors with their class, students will be permitted to take their masks off. This does not apply to arrival or dismissal, as they are either preparing to enter the school or a bus.
Lunch – Students will be going to lunch in the lunchroom. Lunch is also free of charge this year for everyone. We have purchased new tables for the WMS/WIS cafeteria that seat 8 and have single seats instead of benches. This will allow for safer distancing and give each student some personal space to enjoy their lunch. Holly Hills will have additional traditional lunch tables which will allow them to have less students per table so there can be some distancing between students.
Physical Education – Our PE teachers will be working hard (and getting creative) to provide instructional activities in PE class that follow the health guidance. Students will be able to take masks off while exerting themselves provided they are physically distant during the activity.
Dismissal from school - Students will be dismissed in an orderly fashion to comply with our goal of “keep moving and don’t congregate”. Students will leave from their classrooms to go directly to their buses, to a location where we can safely distance to wait for a bus, or out the appropriate exit if they are walking or being picked up.
After-school activities – We intend to return to a full slate of after school activities this year including clubs and sports. Please look for additional information after the school year begins.
OTHER IMPORTANT ITEMS
- Visitors that need to enter the building must make an appointment with the school office. Visitors that are picking up or dropping off items can “buzz” into the office upon arrival without an appointment.
- As of now, we will be enforcing the following travel restrictions regarding quarantine. If your child is returning from INTERNATIONAL travel, they will need to quarantine per CDC guidance. You can contact your school nurse for the updated requirements if needed. For domestic travel, we just ask that you act in accordance with the guidance that we have all come to know so well. Avoid crowds, stay masked when indoors, etc. This will help keep our school healthy for all.
- Back to School Nights – We are planning on in-person Back to School Nights. More information will be coming from your child’s school.
- Please be reminded that, by order of the NJ Department of Education, there is NO full remote option this year for students. Every student is to physically come to school.
- School Board Meetings – As of now, our meetings have returned to “normal” with only in-person attendance. As we had never had remote attendance before the pandemic, and no policy to guide such meetings, we were operating under emergency rules. It appears that there are benefits to having hybrid board meetings, just as many of us have learned about other meetings and gatherings in our lives over the past 18 months. We do have some technological and legal issues to sort out to make remote meeting opportunities a normal process. Anyone who attended our hybrid meetings this year saw the tech issues of having 11 people on laptops in one room and other people on zoom – not being able to hear everyone, bad feedback etc. We are working to see if we wish to and can make this a permanent change.
- Both Before Care and After Care programs run by the Township will be in operation this year. Please see the township website for more information.
- Please note your child’s student ID# and keep it handy. Your child knows it well as it is their cafeteria PIN#. We will be asking for student ID#s in any future surveys as it makes it much easier to be accurate in matching up with our Student Information System data.
The biggest threat to great instruction this year is quarantining. With all of our students coming back, full buses, full classrooms, lunch in the cafeteria, etc., the potential for students to be quarantined out of school because of possible exposure is much greater than last year while we were in cohorts. Having students out, trying to teach with some students in school and some out, students coming in and out – this will be very detrimental to the learning environment that teachers are working to create. Therefore, we must do all we can to minimize the number of students that would be quarantined should we have a positive case.
- Families, please follow the proper actions at home. Wear a mask when indoors in public, stay 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, wash your hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, etc. For a comprehensive list of strategies, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
The absence of the virus in our schools is the best defense against spread.
· The latest guidance for contact tracing and quarantining states that if a student tests positive and everyone is wearing a mask in class and other mitigating factors are being used, no one else would need to be quarantined. These other mitigating factors include increased ventilation strategies and physical distancing – both of which will be in place in every classroom. So, masks will make a huge impact on our ability to keep students in school instead of quarantining at home.
As I have noted before, this community – parents, students, Township leadership, Township first responders, and all our staff – have responded remarkably well to this challenge. We have made tough decisions with the best of intentions and everyone has done their best to support them. On behalf of all of us at Westampton Schools, I sincerely thank you. We have all truly put our children first and we will come out of this stronger than ever.
There is more information coming your way in the next couple of weeks from your child’s school office. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer, stay safe and healthy, and let’s get ready for a great September in school!