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Lower enrollments help some South Jersey districts offer more in-person learning

Lower enrollments help some South Jersey districts offer more in-person learning


Glenn Robbins, Superintendent, Brigantine Community School, reopen

UPDATE: On Aug. 20, Brigantine Superintendent Glenn Robbins announced that the district would not be opening in-person because it could not meet new guidance issued by the state. 

When school reopens in September, students in Brigantine will return to the once empty halls of the district’s former middle school just a year after closing the building due to declining enrollment.

While most districts are planning on hybrid in-person and remote learning due to space constraints, Brigantine is one of a handful of schools in South Jersey able to use the once-bemoaned extra space in its facilities to its advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic and offer five full days of in-person school in September.

“Realizing that we have a giant facility for a declining population, we could use it to our advantage,” Superintendent Glenn Robbins said last week after the K-8 district’s plan was unveiled for either five days in-person or all remote.

Last winter, Brigantine city and school officials approved a plan to consolidate its middle and elementary schools into one of the two connected buildings after enrollment in the district dropped from nearly 800 in 2010 to fewer than 500 in 2018.

The Brigantine Community School opened in the fall of 2019 and used the elementary portion of the building that opened in 1996. Next month, the middle school portion will be used again to accommodate safety and social distancing requirements in the state’s reopening guidelines for schools.

As of Friday, the state Department of Education had received 422 reopening plans from the nearly 600 districts in the state.

Over the summer, the Brigantine school district made renovations to its K-5 classrooms to install sinks for hand washing, and is in the midst of setting up 553 three-walled plastic barriers for desks.

The district has purchased more devices for students, speaker systems for each classroom, safety supplies such as masks and sanitizer, has upgraded its technology infrastructure and has eliminated courtesy busing to prepare for the fall.

Robbins said most parents in Brigantine wanted full-time in-person learning, while about a third preferred all remote.

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“We understand our community,” Robbins said. “We asked about half days, shorter days, different kinds of schedules. Families said, ‘Look, if the kids are there for a couple hours, why don’t they just stay there the whole day?’”

Parents in Stafford Township felt the same and led the K-6 district to offer a similar reopening plan with three options: five full days, a hybrid model or all-remote learning.

According to a survey of parents in June, 86% wanted their children back in school five days a week.

“To me that spoke loud and clear that this is what they wanted. I’m glad that we can do that for our families,” Stafford Superintendent George Chidiac said.

Chidiac said declining enrollment played a large role in the district’s ability to offer the five full-day option.

“We’ve assessed the enrollment the past five years, and what we’ve been seeing is enrollment has been dropping at least 150 students per year, so we’ve been able to do this because we have the extra space,” he said.

Stafford plans to stagger start times, rearrange bus routes and offer classes in common areas by reducing the non-academic classes offered from daily to twice a month.

Chidiac said the decision to offer five days was made collaboratively with the Beach Haven, LBI Consolidated and Ocean Township school districts, which also send students to Southern Regional Junior and Senior high schools.

In Weymouth Township, school officials introduced a plan that would bring students back four days a week for in-person learning and one day remote, or offer full-remote learning.

Board President Ed Zebedies said enrollment in the K-8 district has been steady for a few years around 150 but still down from a decade ago at 200.

“We’re not really seeing a declining enrollment at the moment, but the thing is we have the flexibility where we can continue education while not impairing the opportunities of the students,” Zebedies said.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. After seven years at The Current and Gazette newspapers, I joined The Press in 2015. I currently cover education.

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