But families should prepare for possible closures, the district cautioned on Sunday.
Despite precautions to stave off the coronavirus, “it is likely that during the school year we will experience periodic school closures and learning will shift to all-virtual for the students impacted by the closure,” the district said in a statement.
Closures may come on short notice, affecting a single class or school, several classes or schools or the entire district, for short or extended periods, making it “imperative…(to) plan accordingly for childcare,” the statement said.
Enough parents have opted to keep their children at home that each elementary school will dedicate at least one classroom to virtual instruction.
Finding enough teachers may prove challenging, however. Facing”significant obstacles to fully staffing our buildings,” the district is soliciting “multiple long-term substitute teachers.” They must have at least 60 college credits, and will be paid $195 per day.
The district’s teacher union opposes reopening in September.
Plans call for in-class instruction, with early dismissals, for grades K-5, and a hybrid schedule of classroom and virtual learning for grades 6-12. The 10-school regional district teaches 5,200 students from Morristown, Morris Township and (for high school) Morris Plains, with a staff of 1,000 employees.
District officials will field parents’ questions during virtual town hall meetings during the last week of August. In addition to observing public health recommendations to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public, families are being advised to:
- Considering … for 14 days prior to the start of school, especially if you have recently returned from travel
- Avoiding travel to states with high rates of transmission
Here is Sunday’s full statement.
From the Morris School District:
AUGUST 16, 2020
- Thank you to our MSD families and staff for continuing to provide us important feedback through surveys, board meetings, committee meetings, email exchanges and other modes of communication. Your input has been invaluable in establishing and maintaining a transparent dialogue. While this may be an unusual and possibly disjointed school year, with many variables remaining beyond the control of our district and our families, we are committed to partnering with you to provide the students in our care with the best possible learning experience and with the social, emotional, and academic support they need, whether they are learning in school or at home.
- Governor’s Press Conference. At Governor Murphy’s coronavirus briefing last Wednesday, he officially announced the reopening of schools in NJ, codified in Executive Order No. 175. The Governor further stated that districts can begin the year with all-virtual instruction, but only if they show that they “cannot adequately meet critical health and safety protocols outlined in the state’s school reopening guidance.” According to this proviso, “Districts who need to delay the implementation of in-person instruction will be required to submit information to the Department of Education (DOE) describing the health and safety standards that they are currently unable to adequately meet, how they will address outstanding issues in a timely fashion, and a proposed timeline for reopening physical school spaces to students and staff for in-person instruction.”
The Morris School District’s reopening plan aligns with all critical health and safety protocols currently required by the State, and we are proceeding with our intended return to in-person instruction on September 8 as communicated previously: a hybrid model for preschool and grades 6-12 and a 5-day-a-week model for grades K-5, with a four-hour instructional day for all grade levels.
- What can parents do to help us prepare for a successful reopening? As the NJDOH has stated, “the reopening of schools requires a broad community commitment to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Such commitment involves social distancing, wearing face coverings, cleaning and disinfection and meticulous hygiene practices such as frequent handwashing. Some amount of community mitigation will also be necessary until a vaccine or therapeutic drug becomes widely available.” All of us, community wide, can do our part to keep coronavirus transmission rates low in Morristown, Morristownship, Morris Plains, and surrounding areas by:
- Limiting exposure
- Wearing masks (see video below on strategies to help children build their “mask stamina”)
- Practicing safe social distancing
- Opting for outdoor rather than indoor gatherings
- Teaching children when and how to properly wash hands or use hand sanitizer
- Modeling responsible public health behavior for others
- Considering quarantine for your family for 14 days prior to the start of school, especially if you have recently returned from travel
- Avoiding travel to states with high rates of transmission
- Transitioning Back to School: Building Stamina for Wearing Masks. Dr. Jennifer Weber and Dr. Caroline Linfante, MSD behavior consultants, have created this fifteen-minute video presentation as a guide for parents to help their children acclimate to wearing masks, develop positive associations with masks, and become comfortable wearing masks for long stretches of time. The presentation is also available as a slide deck in Spanish or with Spanish voice over. “Building Stamina for Wearing Masks” is the first of a three-part series of videos on transitioning back to school and setting students up for a successful start to the year. (To access the English version, click on the link above and enter your name and your child’s school. At the conclusion of the video, there is a space to type questions for Dr. Weber and Dr. Linfante; be sure to provide your email address so that they can respond to you.)
These additional videos may assist your conversations with younger children about mask wearing:
- State Health Department Recommendations. Last Thursday, the NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) issued its COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for K-12 Schools. The new guidance in this document is now under review by our district administration in collaboration with local health officials and will be incorporated into our reopening plan. Parents may wish to reference the following pages in particular:
- Page 4: When to stay home
- Pages 6-7: Face coverings
- Pages 9-10: COVID-19 symptoms
- Pages 10-11: Illness at school
- Page 12: When someone tests positive
- Page 13: COVID-19 exclusion table
- Page 15: Closure scenarios
- Page 16: COVID-19 resources
Prior to the start of school, we will share our baseline procedures and criteria for a number of health-related matters, such as screening, illness at school, positive cases, school exclusion, and closure scenarios.
- All-virtual learning options. Thank you to our families who have elected to enroll their students in all-virtual learning for completing the enrollment forms by last Friday’s deadline. Any subsequent changes should be addressed directly to your child’s principal as soon as possible. We are very pleased to report that enrollment numbers were high enough to enable us to offer at least one K-5 Connections classroom (dedicated all-virtual classroom) for each grade level at each elementary school.
- Preschool surveys and newsletter. Preschool families were asked to complete a survey that includes questions critical in planning transportation, in-person, and remote instruction. Survey forms are due Monday, August 17.
The most recent preschool newsletter has important back-to-school information; please click here to read the newsletter in English or Spanish.
- Families should prepare for possible school closures. However carefully we plan for the reopening of our schools and however much we hope for continuity of in-person instruction, it is likely that during the school year we will experience periodic school closures and learning will shift to all-virtual for the students impacted by the closure. This could be a single class, a single school, several classes or schools, or the entire district. Because school closures–whether for short periods of time or for another extended period–may be announced without much advance notice, it is imperative that families prepare for a variety of possible scenarios and plan accordingly for childcare. By way of illustration, here are a number of hypothetical situations in which schools would have to close:
- A single confirmed COVID-19 case is identified in one classroom, and the impacted school is closed for 2 days while contact tracing is performed. All students and staff in that school move to virtual learning for the temporary closure. Students and staff determined to have been in close contact with the positive individual are excluded from school for 14 days and remain in all-virtual instruction for that duration.
- Two or more COVID-19 cases are identified within 14 days that occur across classrooms, and a clear connection between cases or to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 cannot be easily identified. The impacted school buildings close for 14 days and all students and staff in those schools would move to virtual learning, while the other schools remain open as long as no additional cases are identified in those buildings.
- Local transmission rates increase considerably and the northwest region (which includes Morris County) is elevated to the NJDOH’s “very high risk” category. All Morris School District schools must close indefinitely and begin virtual learning for all students until transmission rates decrease and the NJDOH revises the region’s risk category.
- Sources of reliable information. Please continue to reference the following sources for the most up-to-date, most accurate information regarding the MSD reopening plan, state requirements and guidelines for NJ schools, and public health information:
If you are unable to find the district- or school-related information you need among the MSD web pages referenced above, please contact your child’s principal or send an email to email@example.com. We do not encourage you to seek answers to your questions by crowdsourcing on Facebook, Next Door, or other similar platforms; often these contribute to the spread of misinformation, even if inadvertent. Relatedly, we were made aware of recent “mask rumors” on social media started by someone not currently affiliated with the Morris School District. Masks are indeed required of all students and staff on buses and in schools, but if someone does not have a mask, one will be provided for them by the District.
- MSD is hiring long-term subs. There are significant obstacles to fully staffing our buildings, and we are in need of multiple long-term substitute teachers. Long-term subs must have at least 60 college credits and will be paid $195/day. A background check is required. Click here for the online application. Please help us spread the word!
- The District will hold virtual town hall-style meetings the last week of August to answer parents’ questions and address concerns regarding school reopening. More information will follow in the next week.
- Over the next two weeks, we will communicate further details on school reopening procedures as they are finalized (such as bus schedules, school start and end times, Sunrise/Sunset, extracurriculars, screening and other health-related matters, etc.). Building principals will also share important information specific to their schools (such as class assignments, distribution of Chromebooks, arrival and dismissal protocols, school day schedules, procedures for bathroom and mask breaks, etc.). In the meantime, we invite you to consult the MSD Forward: Reopening Our Schools web pages to find information on what has been determined to date.