Warren Hills Regional School District Superintendent Earl Clymer III says an inservice day on March 11, 2020, will help prepare for educating students outside of the classroom if the coronavirus forces schools to close for a time.
The Warren Hills Regional School District is planning for the “if” of the coronavirus, not the “when”.
There have been no cases impacting the grades seven through 12 district that serves in central Warren County, Superintendent Earl C. Clymer said Monday morning.
But a teacher inservice day — and a day off for students — was recently added for Wednesday to work out a plan to continue to educate the district’s students in case health officials require the high school in Washington Township and/or the middle school in Washington to shut during a potential outbreak of COVID-19, he said. The disease has sickened six people so far in New Jersey, but led to no deaths, authorities said.
This district has already upped the intensity of its cleaning efforts, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended products and two electrostatic sanitation guns to fight off any potential respiratory droplets that transmit the virus, Clymer said.
But Wednesday’s effort is more to “add another tool to the toolbox,” Clymer said. “We hope we don’t have to use it.”
Through the district’s one-to-one laptop program, the students all have computers, he said. Many of them have Internet access at home, so the steps from classroom learning to a similar version at home aren’t too big for those using a supplied Google suite of software, he said. The district also has a hot spot arrangement through a Verizon device called Kajeet that could bring Internet to students without it, he said. It’s also planned that packets of hard copies of classroom work could be provided so other students don’t fall behind, he said.
While the district does still have some snow days left over after a nearly snowless winter, it doesn’t have enough to offset the 14-day incubation period that students and teachers would need to observe if there were an exposure, Clymer said. Students must attend 180 days of school before June 30, according to state regulations.
Continuing teaching and learning during a hypothetical ordered school closure is “vitally important,” he said.
The teachers union has been “very cooperative” as short-term work scenarios are planned out, he said.
And Clymer wants to be clear. The district is not planning for a day well into the future when students and teachers won’t need buildings. It just wants to have a solid plan in place to deal with a coronavirus interruption, he said.
The district is not trying to figure out if a virtual school would, for example, require fewer teachers. The initial assumption is healthy students and healthy teachers simply having to work from home because a department of health has shut a building, he said.
The disease, which has sickened more than 100,000 worldwide and killed more them 3,800, is creating “a situation new to everyone,” he said. So the district needs to figure out how to “ensure students continue to get educated” when a building or buildings are not available, he said.
While the district doesn’t offer aftercare programs, there are families where both parents work, Clymer said. But it’s not the same situation as an elementary school, where children as young as 5 would need greater care in the case of a two-week school closure.
The district is working with its four feeder elementary schools, but each of them, a district onto themselves, would have unique issues to work through, Clymer said. The middle and high school district at this point is sharing documents and information with the elementaries during an ongoing conversation, he said.
The Warren Hills district serves students from Washington, Washington Township, Mansfield Township and Franklin Township. Oxford Township sends students to the high school in a tuition deal.
The middle and high school students so far do not seem to be reacting to reports of the spreading disease, and teachers and parents haven’t exhibited “widespread concern,” he said. Everyone is using hand sanitizer and there have been reminders of basic hygiene, such as proper hand-washing, in various communications with parents via the district’s website and email. Those communications will continue, he said.
While Wednesday’s inservice with teachers and staff is essential, Clymer said it’s his hope that the process of planning doesn’t ramp up any worry.
The sole purpose for the process is planning for a potential future shutdown and being able to guarantee “we’re able to support our students and our communities,” he said.