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Is your school closed? Local schools prepare for a long break as COVID-19 spreads
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Is your school closed? Local schools prepare for a long break as COVID-19 spreads

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ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic City High School Principal Dr. La’ Quetta Small stood with teachers, custodians, coaches, safety officers and administrators Sunday afternoon in a school hallway, packing black bags full of snacks and drinks.

Palettes of food were carted in as the staffers rushed around folding tables. The school this weekend announced that all students must attend class Monday as the administration keeps tabs on the spread of the new coronavirus.

The district has not announced plans for students past Monday, when students will receive the “care packages.”

“These are staff who volunteered. I didn’t send out an email blast. They just felt the need there to come do something to prepare our students in the event that we are closed,” Small said.

The announcement of school closures has been a nonstop trickle in Atlantic County since last week. School staff, including at Atlantic City High School, are putting together plans to carry out instruction over the internet to facilitate social distancing while not extending the school year deep into the summer.

On Sunday, Absecon, Galloway Township, Egg Harbor Township, Egg Harbor City, Brigantine, Upper Township and more announced they would be closing Monday or Tuesday to help avoid unnecessary person-to-person contact and quash the rising rates of infection.

On Sunday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that 31 more people have tested presumed positive in New Jersey, bringing the total to 98. On Saturday night, he announced the second death in the state. A week ago, six people had tested presumed positive and no one had yet succumbed to the illness.

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small went live on Facebook on Saturday night to discuss the city’s approach to the spreading virus, and declared a state of emergency and the city a “disaster area.” There have been no confirmed cases in Atlantic City or Atlantic County yet, but the declaration will pave the way for certain decisions should the situation worsen, Small said.

“The city of Atlantic City is just taking a proactive approach, instead of a reactive approach,” Small said. “It gives us the opportunity to make decisions such as Wednesday’s council meeting not being open to the public. And we’re just getting ahead of it.”

Many schools are opting to close Tuesday instead of Monday to give a buffer for the transition to what could be an extended period of at-home learning.

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“While you may be tempted to keep your child(ren) home, we strongly encourage you to have your child attend school,” said Brigantine Public School District Superintendent Glenn Robbins in his letter to parents. “Our administrators, teachers, and staff will be providing students with additional guidance and reassurance about the closure. We believe this will help the children with this unprecedented school closing.”

Students in Egg Harbor City public schools were sent home with packets containing two weeks worth of work, and were asked to look for updates concerning additional instruction material. In Absecon schools, students will be given a preliminary packet with three days of course work. On the fourth day, children in preschool, kindergarten and first grade will be given additional written materials and students in second grade through eighth grade will interact with their teachers through Google Classroom to carry out assignments. That is typical for schools across the region, who will be transitioning to online teaching in the next week.

“We sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate this difficult and challenging period,” said Absecon Public School District Superintendent Daniel Dooley.

Schools aren’t the only institutions preparing for a major adjustment in day-to-day operations. AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Shore Medical Center and Cape Regional Health System announced they would be banning nearly all visitors to its hospitals in accordance with New Jersey Hospital Association’s voluntary guidelines.

There are limited exceptions. Visitors for patients in hospice or end-of-life care will be chosen on a case-by-case basis. Maternity, pediatric and emergency patients can have one visitor or support person. Patients having same-day, outpatient surgeries can have one visitor. Visitors and support persons will be screened for symptoms of flu, coronavirus and other illness.

At schools, there are adjacent impacts that need to be considered in all long-term closures.

As students are sent home, superintendents acknowledged that many students are reliant on free or reduced price meals at school. Those will continue to be available for pick-up at many schools.

Information regarding breakfast and lunch pick-up will be provided to students at Brigantine schools Monday. Students in Egg Harbor City public schools will be able to pick up breakfast at the Community School from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to noon, and school nurses will be in touch with students with medication at the school to arrange pick ups. Starting Tuesday, March 17, food packages with breakfast and lunch will be available for pick up at all district schools from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

“We know that this is a challenging time. We know that there are concerns and anxiety,” said Pleasantville School District Interim Superintendent Dennis J. Anderson. “We deeply care about all of our students, staff and community and believe that this closure is a necessary precaution. It will allow us to continue to put the health, safety and welfare of our students as our top priority.”

Steps away from the assembly line at Atlantic City High School on Sunday, piles of Asus Chromebooks lined the walls of the theater, ready to be taken home by students to complete their school work online. Small wanted to make sure they weren’t hungry while they did their work.

“During the after school programs, during club ... they receive snacks,” Small said. “So in the event that we’re out of school, we just want to make sure the students have a care package to get them through their work.”

Contact: 609-272-7260

Twitter @ACPressColtShaw

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