Last week’s Marlboro School Board meeting took place in the High School Auditorium, with an audience socially distanced. Superintendent Michael Brooks offered his thanks, “for a live audience, finally. It is great to be in a place where we have people around and also thank you to those who are watching us on our YouTube page.”
Brooks reminded the public that school buildings, school classes and grounds have been closed since the spring. On September 1 the Governor opened schools but left it up to the local school boards on whether they will open up for public and private facility use, such as the grounds and fields, and inside use for various organizations that need an auditorium, a cafeteria or a classroom. He said there is a formal process that outside entities must adhere to in order to use the district’s facilities or grounds.
With the 2020-21 school year opening this week, Brooks updated the board on his Return To Learn plan. He said the plan’s primary goals call for, “maximizing the time that students and teachers are with each other, establishing and following the necessary safety measures to minimize the transmission of covid-19 and other illnesses and most importantly, recognizing and respecting the difficult challenges that returning to school means for families, children and staff concerning health, food, learning, family and daycare.”
Brooks said bringing the children and staff back is a major effort and doing so safely is the ultimate goal. He pledged to the students, parents and staff that, “we’re doing this slowly, we’re doing this judiciously so when we do have our students back in school, we keep our children back in school. So if we build in the proper procedures, the proper protocols, the proper expectations so that we can keep people safe, so we don’t see outbreaks, so we don’t see spreads like you’re seeing in schools and colleges right now, we can keep our kids here.” Brooks is hoping the district’s proactive measures will prevent a shutdown of the schools after they re-open.
Brooks said the staff has been diligently preparing for the first steps; remote learning and implementing procedures and training for the protocols in today’s very different and unique environment. Each student has or will soon receive an invite from their teacher, under the guidance of school principals, for a Google Meet for each class; with full online learning beginning on Tuesday, September 15. The invite is in the form of a code that each teacher sends out to their students in order to prevent hacking. He said students and teachers alike are anxious to see the system work smoothly and easily as the year kicks off.
Brooks said the hybrid model is the plan that will bring students back into the buildings. He said before this model can begin, the first half of September is being used to reintroduce the staff back into the buildings, getting ready for the online meets and online learning.
“We’re going to tackle that so well in the next couple of weeks that I can see making significant progress as we start to meet next week with our planning staff on how do we get our children physically back in from a very specific logistics perspective,” he said. “I can’t put a date on it yet because I have to meet with staff in order to accomplish that.”
Cleaning of the building is ongoing and will continue on a daily basis, both in the daytime and at night. He said the custodial staff will handle the bulk of this work, “but once our children do make it back into our facilities the teachers will encourage, support and require that children maintain good hygiene as do our staff.”
Brooks highlighted the procedures that will lead to children returning in-person; the district has hand held temperature scanners and a lobby guard will be on duty for any visitors. He said walk through temperature scanners will arrive soon and be installed immediately and the staff will be able to use a mobile app, “rather than a google form and has already been integrated into our front line system. It will be something they can do very simply and quickly so they can enter because staff has to be screened daily.”
The school buses are not yet in wide use, “although we are going to be starting very soon with our children going out to SETEX programs and also our career and technical programs and for our children that are going to special education programs out of district.”
Brooks said the district is waiting for the Section IX options concerning start dates and for which sports will be allowed.
Brooks the district has been preparing for when students physically return to school.
“We have a robust training system and a website that has a vast number of resources for anything about health and safety, in addition to anything else, for our staff,” he said.
The district has also been filling their staffing vacancies with needed substitutes.
Brooks said he has been notified by the federal government that the food service program that was in place for the spring and summer will continue, “now and into the foreseeable future. All students, not just those who qualify for free and reduced, but all students during any school day, whether we’re in school in-person or whether we’re remote.” He said Food Services Director Fred Callo has the snack shack set up as it was before, “so families and children can come in, get their meals and pull away.”
Brooks said the district has provided Chrome books or iPads for grades 6-12 and soon will provide all students with the devices. Once an order for 500 Chrome books arrives, “we will be a K-12, one-to-one district at that point.” In addition, the district is constantly upgrading their computers, smart boards, webcams, Wifi, the network and their bandwidth; “It’s a complex matrix but we’re evolving constantly,” as the district gets ready for on-line learning. He said the district is also always adhering to the Department of Health guidelines.
Brooks said the Governor has put a temporary hold on 20% of state aid to all school districts. Brooks said this will be in a constant state of flux as the “battle between the federal and state governments heats up...It is something that is out of our control, it’s party to party, it’s an election year and it’s messy.”
Brooks said the district has been paying close attention to having the right protocols in place, having enough PPE equipment and supplies and the right environment for students to return to the classroom.
“I am 100 percent confident that we have a fantastic environment for our staff and am 100 percent confident that we are going to get our children back into these buildings very soon,” he said.