EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Students in the township could return to school two days a week for half days and receive three days of virtual instruction under one of four proposals the local school district presented during a special meeting Tuesday.

During the nearly five-hour-long virtual public meeting, the Egg Harbor Township School District shared its preliminary plans for a return to school in the fall that included several options for hybrid learning (both in-person and at-home) and addressed health and safety, scheduling, special education, technology, transportation and school meals.

“I think this has been a very, very long, but a very productive meeting,” board President Pete Castellano said as the meeting came to an end about 11 p.m. “We know that this task ahead of us is very, very difficult and it’s an unprecedented task.”

More than 85 members of the district’s planning committee, including current and former teachers, administrators, parents and other community members, participated in the meeting.

Superintendent Kim Gruccio, who led the presentation, said a final plan will be presented to the school board Aug. 3 for its approval, although board attorney Amy Houck Elco said she is researching whether board approval is necessary.

All districts must submit their plans to the state for approval by early August.

The district’s plans were modeled to be in line with the Department of Education’s “Road Back” reopening guidelines that were released at the end of June.

The district proposed two schedule options — one that would have one day a week dedicated to all remote-learning and one with alternating days over two weeks — and two proposals based off 25% or 50% capacity.

Gruccio said the idea for offering a half-day program was based on the state’s guidance regarding exposure.

“We do not want to keep groups of folks in the same place longer than we have to,” she said.

According to other presenters from the planning committee, the extra time at the end of the day would allow teachers to plan with each other and to meet with students one-on-one, virtually.

The district is also considering pushing back the start date for students and rearranging professional development for staff to ease the process.

The Egg Harbor Township School District serves more than 7,300 students and employs nearly 1,200 staff members over eight schools and two administrative offices.

The challenges facing the district in its effort to reopen are complicated by financial limitations as it has received less state aid than it was entitled to under the state’s school funding laws for more than a decade, despite a large growth in enrollment over the same period that only recently began to level out.

Schools in New Jersey closed in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the state and since June have been planning for at least some in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year.

While New Jersey was able to slow the spread of the virus and continues to report positive numbers for rate of transmission and hospitalizations, in other states, the virus has seen a surge.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy — reacting to parents’ concerns — released additional guidance that mandates school districts allow parents to select an all-remote option for their children.

On Wednesday, a bill that would delay in-person instruction until at least Oct. 31 was introduced by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Pamela Lampitt and Joann Downey. Murphy, in his COVID-19 response briefing Wednesday, continued to advocate for some in-person learning, citing equity issues.

Even with some aspect of in-person learning, families, especially those with just one parent or where both parents work full time, will be facing difficult decisions come September in terms of employment and child care.

Castellano said he plans to release answers to all public questions about the plan in a document on the district website in the coming days.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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