Dear Springfield Public Schools Community,
I hope you have all enjoyed your summer! While there are still a few weeks to go before we welcome students back, I wanted to share an update with you regarding our plans for returning this Fall.
At our Board of Education meeting on Monday, August 16, 2021, the Board approved the revised Policy No. 1648- Plan for Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Service. This policy provides an overview of the protocols that we will follow in the coming months as we work to provide as “normal” of an experience as possible in the ongoing challenge of Covid-19.
As I noted in the Superintendent’s Report presentation, we have planned this school year in the context of the “new normal.” For our schools, this means welcoming all of our students back to classrooms for full-day, in-person instruction. In the coming weeks you will receive communication from your school principals about the opening of school activities.
In the context of Covid-19, we are also utilizing a layered approach to support the health and safety of our students and staff. Our plan follows the guidance provided by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and our local health officials. I encourage you to review the full policy, but below we provide an overview of how requirements will impact our school year.
Per Executive Order No. 251, masks must be worn indoors at school facilities at all times. There are exceptions including: when eating, when engaging in physical activity, in extreme indoor temperatures, and when documented medical conditions or disability have been shared with the school. If your child has such a documented medical condition, please provide your school with the appropriate documentation from your healthcare provider(s). Please note, as with other health conditions, the medical note must be provided for the upcoming school year, and prior notes will not be accepted.
While our sincere hope is that all of the students and families comply with the state mandate, students who refuse to wear a mask will not be able to join their classroom, and the school will contact the parent/guardian to pick them from school. We will follow the school procedures outlined in the Code of Conduct. Additional masks will be available at the school site to support students who need masks. Schools will work to identify the appropriate locations and times for mask break appropriate to student ages and needs.
Unfortunately, the wearing of masks has become a controversial issue. We respect that opinions may differ, but we will not tolerate harassment of school staff in any form, and will alert the authorities should such unfortunate events occur.
Throughout our schools we will arrange classrooms and assign student seating to allow for the maximum available space between students. Last year, as we expanded cohorts of students to return to schools, we were able to support at least three feet of distance between students in most of our classrooms. In the coming year, we will continue the use of the clear partitions on desks in elementary classrooms to support the distancing. In our upper grades, we will no longer utilize the partitions in classrooms, but will make use of the partitions during lunch periods. Students or families that wish to use a partition during class may request a partition from their school.
When weather allows, we will work to provide outdoor areas for students to eat lunch, however we will also be adjusting our schedules to ensure the appropriate spacing is available for indoor lunches.
Screening, Contact Tracing, and Quarantines
Throughout last year, we were grateful to families who promptly reported positive cases of Covid-19 so that we could follow the guidance provided by the NJDOH. We will continue to follow the most recent guidance and will adjust our practices should that guidance shift.
We are proud that as of August 8, 2021, 66% of children aged 12-17, and 79% of adults aged 18 and over have been fully vaccinated. We hope that these numbers continue to rise, as they offer protection for our community’s health and allow for fewer interruptions in the school experience. In addition, we have confirmed 70% of our staff have reported being fully vaccinated.
As we begin this school year, we will not require a daily health questionnaire, but will ask that families take the lead in keeping children with symptoms or exposure to Covid-19 at home. If our community experiences significant spread, or based on guidance from our local health officials, we may reinstate the daily health questionnaire.
The state is not allowing long-term remote instruction, and families with students who have significant health concerns should contact their Principal and Ms. Tiffany Boehm, the Director of Student Services for guidance related to home instruction.
All quarantine procedures will follow the NJDOH guidance. Under the current recommendations, this means that vaccinated staff and students will not be required to quarantine following exposure to an individual that tests positive for Covid-19, unless they are also symptomatic. For unvaccinated students, we will continue to consult with the health office to determine the students or staff that have been in close contact, and communicate with their families regarding the quarantine process. Such students will be able to participate in remote learning during their period of quarantine, although they may not have remote access to all of their classes, and may be assigned asynchronous assignments based on the class. Additional specific procedures related to this process will be shared prior to the start of school.
While we remain under the precautions related to Covid-19, we will continue to limit outside visitors in the school buildings. At the same time, we recognize the important role that our volunteers play in our school community. Schools will provide specific guidance for visitors in their facility, but it is important to note a few key points of our return to school policy.
First, outside visitors who may be interacting with staff and students will be required to show proof of vaccination in order to volunteer inside of the school environment. They will also be required to strictly adhere to their plans for visiting the school, and may be asked to leave if they demonstrate any symptoms related to Covid-19. Outside visitors who are not vaccinated may be allowed to support outdoor activities, but will be asked to wear a mask to protect our students and staff.
Second, schools will limit outside items being brought to the school. All students will have access to free lunch in the 21-22 school year, and therefore we will not accept forgotten lunches, with few exceptions. In addition, families are discouraged from bringing items left at home, and will not be allowed in the building to drop off such items. In cases of emergency, they may contact the school and arrange to be met at a designated entry point.
The start and end times of all of our schools are remaining the same as in previous years. Daily student schedules are shifting in grades 3 and up as we make adjustments to support this transition back to full day instruction while being mindful of the needs of our students.
In grades 3 through 5, students will have a “What I Need” (WIN) period built into their school day. During this period, they will work with different peer groups based on their academic needs, and gain exposure to exciting new STEM curricula.
At FMG, students will utilize a blocked schedule in their team structure, providing more time to go in-depth and minimize the number of transitions they make on a daily basis. In addition, the Activity Period will be moved from the beginning of the day to the end of the day to support access to academic interventions and support.
At JDHS, Activity Period will be moved to between 4th and 5th periods, allowing for students to take advantage of a study hall, academic interventions, and student activities. This shift supports a more effective schedule for science lab courses, transition for students involved in the vo-tech shared time program, and flexibility for student programs.
While we are excited about our plans for welcoming our students back, we also recognize that guidance from the NJDOE and NJDOH may result in further adjustments to our plans. We will update you as these shifts occur, and will continue to keep you informed about our plans.
As your family prepares for the opening of schools, please remember to thank the incredible school staff for their hard work and dedication that makes our schools successful. We can’t wait to see you in September!
Cultivating compassionate and extraordinary learners!
Superintendent of Schools