Covid Challenges Continue For SP-F School District

For Union County HAWK

SCOTCH PLAINS — An increase in Covid cases has brought “a number of challenges” to the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district, Superintendent Joan Mast, Ed.D., said at last Thursday’s board of education meeting. In addition to more student quarantines, staffing has been impacted by the higher rates, reported Dr. Mast. “The system is under stress,” she said.

At the time of the meeting, school nurses had contact-traced approximately 6,200 individuals since the school buildings opened in November 2020, according to Robert McGarry, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “That is no small task, and we are grateful for their efforts,” he said.

The district has been able to provide students with the means to continue their education, even with the difficulties posed by the ongoing pandemic, said Dr. Mast. As part of their return to full-time school this year, the district created a virtual option for students in quarantine. The demand has become greater for this virtual instruction as student cases rise.

Dr. McGarry said the elementary version, which has been “affectionately dubbed quarantine academy,” had 65 students at the time of the meeting, although he noted the number changes daily. “The goal is to maintain the instruction throughout the child’s exclusion from school,” he said. The virtual teachers work with the classroom teachers to provide individualized instruction to quarantined students.

Middle-school students log in to their Google classroom throughout the day and are met by a staff member who is there to help students navigate the site and to answer questions. High-school students log in and listen to the audio of their classes in real time. The district continues to “perfect our approach,” said Dr. McGarry, listening to the feedback from students, parents and teachers. “We’ve been really fortunate to have a great staff,” he said.

Quarantine guidelines were revised on December 16, Board Attorney Doug Silvestro reported. “The guidelines have reduced the amount of time the unvaccinated students who have been deemed close contacts have to be excluded from school,” he said. According to the updated Student Illness/Exposure protocol document found on the Scotch Plains-Fanwood district website, unvaccinated students who are identified as a close contact can return to school eight days after exposure if they provide a negative PCR test. If students choose not to get tested, they must quarantine for 10 days. Vaccinated students do not have to quarantine provided they do not have any symptoms.

“I think that there is room and there is legal flexibility for the board to do something different for unvaccinated children who have recovered from Covid,” said Julio Gomez, a parent of twin high-school students. Mr. Gomez said that current science indicates that children who have recovered from Covid “have superior immunity” to those who are vaccinated and therefore should not be excluded from school.

The transportation issues previously reported in Union County HAWK continue to trouble the district, according to Business Administrator Christopher Jones. During the meeting, the board approved hiring an additional, full-time bus driver, which Mr. Jones said should help alleviate some of the issues. The district also was able to lease a bus from the bus company.

The next meeting of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education will be on Thursday, January 6, at the administration offices, at 7:30 p.m.

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