FAQ'S January Return to School
SCHEDULE: WEEK OF JANUARY 10
To create a sustainable return to full-day school, students will return to school during the week of January 10 with a schedule that includes both in-person and virtual learning.
Students will attend school in-person, be dismissed for lunch, and continue learning at home virtually. This will allow for a full day of learning for all students. Additional details will be communicated to you from your building administrators and teachers. The district will follow the schedules below for the week of January 10-14 and will re-evaluate the schedule to return to full-day the following week.
High School 9-12 Student Schedule*
*The HS will follow the Blue day schedule to start the week on Monday, January 10.
Covid Update FAQ
January 5, 2022
- When will parents know what students’ schedule will be for next week?
We are monitoring the positive quarantine and isolation cases for staff this week and will be using that data to determine the staff available for in-person learning. We plan to have a determination by Friday to alert parents about next week’s schedule. Please know that our goal is to return to in-person learning as soon as we can,
2.) Why do our students have a virtual schedule this week?
Essex County is in the Very High (RED) Risk level. The last time we were at this designation was late March, early April of 2020 when the entire state was in a lockdown. We have seen a record number of positive cases across the country, state, township and the district due to the Omicron variant. Since the holiday break (12/23/21 - 1/2/22), as reported through the Nurses’ Covid tracking protocol, 414 staff and students tested positive or were close contacts.
As of Saturday 1/1, we were still hopeful we could have in-person learning. However, as the number of isolation and quarantine cases were reported throughout Sunday, the data of over 100 absences from staff warranted a change in plan. Due to the current substitute shortage, we would not be able to secure enough substitutes for all of the staff who would be absent and require a substitute. Even when we are not in a pandemic, we already experience a shortage of specialty staff whose position cannot be easily filled as there are not candidates readily available to be a substitute.
The virtual decision allowed for teachers who were isolating or quarantining to teach their students virtually. In-person learning was not possible as there were not enough teachers to cover all the students and classes. Going virtual allowed teachers to teach the students from home and move instruction forward.
3.) Who makes the decision to go to a virtual schedule?
The ultimate decision was made when the lead nurse made Dr. Burton aware of the high number of staff who were infected with COVID 19 and could not return to school. Once aware of this, she consulted with the Local Department of Health and the County Executive Superintendent, administrators, and the lead nurse. With the health and safety of our students in mind the decision to go virtual was made. The information on the number of positive and quarantined staff were discussed along with the recommendation that was confirmed with the DOH and the County Executive Superintendent.
There are many factors to weigh as we make these decisions. We know that the ideal is in-person learning, but when we physically can't put teachers or subs in the room we have to look at alternatives. Going virtual temporarily allowed for the majority of those teachers that would have been out and not teaching to teach from home and keep instruction moving. It enabled us to continue to provide teaching and learning by the classroom teachers.
4.) What are we doing about the substitute shortage and what can we do to improve the situation?
Currently, like most districts across the country, we are experiencing a shortage of both teachers and substitutes. We have a substitute service that is finding very limited numbers of substitutes during recruiting events and some substitutes that are reluctant to come in during the high exposure levels that we are currently experiencing. We have increased our recruitment efforts and have secured additional substitutes. We are also looking to have parent volunteers help out with our building needs. More information will be coming soon. The district has been asking for people to sub since earlier last year. Please see the form attached to become a sub.
5.) Can a student who is quarantined at home interact with the teacher during virtual learning?
The teachers will be planning their lessons based on the in-person students. Students who are isolating due to a covid positive case, or quarantining as a result of being a close contact to a positive case will have access to the classroom and will be able to ask questions. Students who are at home will be able to virtually participate and ask questions during the in-person classroom lesson. Teachers will not be providing separate lessons for virtual students.
6.) Why can't one teacher teach two classrooms?
When we are virtual it is possible to combine classes and for students to receive instruction. If a teacher is sick and unable to teach, and there is not a viable substitute, students can be divided up to get instruction virtually.
During the Very High Risk (Red) level, as per the DOH, we cannot combine classrooms and must still maintain a safe distance between students. If we combine classrooms we will not be able to maintain social distancing. When we are not in a pandemic, this might be a short-term solution for a day, but it is not a viable productive solution for instruction to be effective. Combining classes with large numbers does not make for productive teaching and learning. Mixing of cohorts is inadvisable at this time of Very High Transmission.
7.) Can you explain why schools are not following the new CDC guidance for 5 days of quarantine? Can we have separate rules for vaccinated versus unvaccinated students and staff?
The New Jersey Department of Health and the Department of Education are not following the new CDC guidance at this time. The NJDOH have recommended continuing to follow their previous guidance, that is even stricter as a result of being in the Very High Risk regions.
The NJDOH recommends 10 days of isolation following a positive test, especially for schools located in See the guidance link below. There are some variations in the quarantine times for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated students and staff. Unfortunately, being vaccinated has not slowed the spread of Omicron and the vaccinated also are getting infected at a very high rate.
The most recent guidance (12/30/21) from the DOH can be found here: Updates for K-12 School: Isolation/Quarantine Timeframes and Recommendations for Very High Covid-19 Activity Levels
NOTE: “CDC has not yet applied the recently revised isolation and quarantine timeframes for the general population to K-12 schools. Therefore, until CDC updates school specific guidance, it is recommended that K-12 schools continue to follow conventional isolation and quarantine timeframes (10-day isolation/exclusion; 7- or 10-day quarantine/exclusion with and without negative testing). Watch for future updates as guidance may change in the near future.
9.) Can we require mandating testing or vaccinations for staff and/or students?
At this time, we know of only private, parochial and independent schools who are able to mandate testing or vaccinations. Those requirements can only come from the state. We have strongly recommended to all of our staff and district families that they get themselves and their students (5 and older) vaccinated, and tested regularly to prevent asymptomatic transmission of the virus. We are providing our families and staff the opportunity to get tested through our collaboration with the testing company BackToWorkSolutions who will now be testing daily starting next week.
10.) When will the district’s COVID-19 dashboard reflect the cumulative total number of cases, including during the break?
The dashboard updates as the nurses input the positive cases they are made aware of. The current dashboard reflects the total number of cases input since Monday, January 3, 2022. These cases were reported between 12/24/2021 to present. Because the nurses were not working over break the dashboard simply reflects the numbers collected over that time. Starting the week of January 10th, the dashboard will be more reflective of each day's count from each school. We are working on having the total number of positive and quarantine cases from December 24, 2021 to January 7, 2022 available by the end of the week.
While on vacation, absences were being reported by staff using a reporting form, as well as email messages to nurses and principals, and calls to their supervisors. Since returning from vacation on Monday, the nurses have been using that data to update their tracking spreadsheet, and to contact each person for contact tracing and to confirm their isolation/quarantine requirements per the NJ Department of Health.
11.) Why did other schools not go to a virtual schedule? Is it a percentage of staff or a hard number of staff that is needed in order for the district to have in-person learning?
Each school district has differences in the number of buildings, numbers of students and staff. Each school district must determine the feasibility and safety of opening schools based upon numerous conditions (i.e. staffing, available space in their schools, large gathering spaces- cafeterias, gyms). On average, for a class to run efficiently and safely there should be approximately 20-28 students to one staff member, depending on the grade level. There are situations where there may be more students depending on grade, course, or student needs. The standard student class size for Millburn in K-5 is Kindergarten: 20, First Grade: 23, Second Grade: 23, Third Grade: 23, Fourth Grade: 26, Fifth Grade 26.
12.) Why can’t we limit the virtual just to the buildings that have too many positive cases? Why do we need to go virtual for the entire district?
The numbers of staff absences are at high numbers across all schools. If there is ever a situation where a school has an outbreak of an illness, an individual school may close. This has happened in the past for H1N1 and flu outbreaks. Earlier in the year, we closed down classrooms who experienced high levels of positive cases, when the rest of the building was able to continue in person.
13.) Why is it ok for sports to be in person while rest is virtual? Who makes this decision?
Sports are running as normal because the staff is present and able to coach. They are practicing Covid precautions, as per the NJSIAA protocols. The district did not go virtual because of a fear of covid transmission. Per the DOH Matrix (p.7) for Very High Risk level, it is recommended students and staff involved in extracurricular activities test 2x/week.
The school day is virtual because there was not enough staff to safely teach the students in-person.
14.) What is the protocol for a staff member to stay home? Do they give proof of positive tests?
As per the DOH, staff who have tested positive or who have family members in their home that have tested positive are required to isolate or quarantine. Anyone infected with COVID 19 needs to be isolated for 10 days from the onset of symptoms or for 10 days from the positive test if asymptomatic, as per the NJDOH guidelines for K-12 schools. Staff provide their school nurses the positive test results for themselves or for someone in their household. They are advised by the school nurse, based on their conversations when they can return to work.
Vaccinated staff that have a positive case in their home are asked to test after 5 days. If the positive case cannot be isolated then the staff member needs to stay home for those 5 days. If the positive case is able to isolate the vaccinated staff member can return.
All unvaccinated staff who are identified as close contacts must quarantine for 7 days as per NJDOH guidelines. They can return on day 8 with a negative test taken 5 days after exposure.
We are following the guidelines from the New Jersey Department of Health, and conferring with the Millburn/Livingston Department of Health for additional guidance when needed.
15.) Are staff and families taking advantage of the COVID testing at the schools?
Back to Work Solutions tested more than 1,000 people at our schools during the week of December 27, 2021, and has more than 1,000 scheduled for the week of January 3. Beginning the week of January 10, testing will be offered 5 days a week, as long as the current needs require, and BTW Solutions can accommodate the additional testing. It is the best way to prevent asymptomatic transmission of the virus.