The top public school official in Princeton told the school board on Tuesday night that he had to scrap plans for a phased-in hybrid learning model that would have brought young elementary school students back to school first in September because the school district does not have enough staff members to work in person.
An in-person hybrid instruction model will begin in the Princeton Public Schools on Oct. 12 at the earliest, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic evolves.
“We are at a crossroad,” Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso told the school board at the virtual public meeting Tuesday night.
“We are receiving accommodation (requests) from our staff with medical documentation that they are unable to work in person with a hybrid model. Therefore we will not be able to staff our schools properly,” Galasso said. “I’m hoping by Oct. 12 there will be enough confidence in the school district’s ability to provide the appropriate ventilation, the appropriate PPE, the appropriate cleanliness in our buildings, and confidence in our protocols, that we will be able to have our teachers come back into the buildings. That will depend on the virus, spikes in Mercer County or New Jersey, and other variables we are unable to control.”
As of Tuesday, 89 staff members in the district asked to work from home.
“A significant number of certified staff members are requesting to work from home,” Galasso said. “We also anticipate another 20 or 25 requests to work from home. It leaves us unable to staff our schools appropriately. Therefore I have to recommend to the board of education that we go to a remote learning style for at least the first month. There isn’t really any choice for us because we do not have the staff to implement the instructional program.”
If students are able to return on Oct. 12, elementary school students would start in-person learning first, and a week later on Oct 19, the district would welcome students in grades six through 12. “It all dependes on the ability to staff our schools,” Galasso said.
A decision about fall athletics will be made by Sept. 14, Galasso said, adding that he is also recommending that the district employ head coaches part-time to provide social and emotional support to athletes.
Ionization filters are being added to the HVAC Systems in all the schools. The school board approved $98,000 worth of filters Tuesday night and will be asked at some point to approve another $50,000 for ionization filters at Johnson Park Elementary and Princeton High School on Tuesday. The installation and other work should be completed by Oct. 12, Galasso said, adding that the delay of in-person instruction gives the district time to make sure all schools meet appropriate health and safety standards.
Once the hybrid in-person learning model begins, individual students can switch between the hybrid and remote models, but must wait until the end of a marking period to move from one learning environment to another, Galasso said.
Tuesday night, Galasso said when the district returns to the hybrid model, meals will be served. A spokesperson for the district then said on Wednesday morning that meals will not be served at schools once the district returns to a hybrid model. Students participating in the district’s free and reduced lunch program will continue to have food delivered every Wednesday whether the district is working in hybrid or remote-only mode, Galasso said.