Princeton Public Schools to expand in-person instruction starting Monday

The Princeton Public Schools will expand in-person learning for students whose families have chosen the option, starting on Monday, March 15. In-person classes will be offered five days a week for students at Princeton High School. Middle school students will return to school for in-person learning five days a week also, with one cohort of students attending every week and two other cohorts alternating weeks. Elementary schools will bring back second graders for a four-day per week schedule, and will then phase in students in grades 3-5, school district officials said.

Students whose families have chosen the remote -earning-only option will still be able to learn remotely.

Changes were outlined in an email to parents from Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso that went on Wednesday.

The changes

At the high school, students that were in cohorts A and B will be back in school five days a week starting March 15. The new combined cohort will be known as cohort D. The new schedule will not affect all-remote students at the high school, Galasso said. 

The first in-person Friday for Princeton High School students will be March 19. Instruction time will be increased by 20 percent at the high school, and time for “targeted learning”, visits with school counselors, study breaks, and socializing will also be increased, Galasso said. The homework load for students has been adjusted and there will be a 20-minute mask and snack break between classes. The break will take place outdoors when the weather is good. “We have heard student and staff voices, opinions, and desires and we have integrated as many suggestions as possible into the new schedule. We feel strongly that providing in-person learning on Fridays is an educationally sound plan for all our students,” Galasso wrote.

In-person schooling at the high school will end at 1 p.m. daily and buses will take students home. Cranbury students who are learning in-person and are participating in athletics or other after-school programs will be able to stay in the building after 1 p.m. The district will provide buses to bring students back for sports and other activities as needed.

Middle school students in cohorts D and E will return to school in-person five days a week on Monday. After spring break, students in those groups will continue to attend school daily. Galasso said school officials will be monitoring enrollment carefully and will be guided by medical professionals and evolving health guidelines to determine whether the school will be able to fully combine cohorts A and B. Cohort C will continue to be remote. “It is our intention to welcome all students who want in-person instruction for the fourth quarter,” Galasso wrote.

The in-person school day will end at 1 p.m. at the middle school. All middle school students, regardless of the cohort, will be required to “check in” virtually every day at 2 p.m. during their community period so they can complete assignments or report to teachers for targeted instruction. Students, regardless of the cohort, will also be required to “check out” with their community period teachers every day at 3 p.m. to end the school day. Galasso said students can return to the campus for after-school clubs, sports, or activities at 3:20 p.m. daily. Students will have access to bus transportation, or parents can drop them back off at school.

Most elementary students will eventually attend school in person four days a week, Galasso wrote. The district has already combined elementary school cohorts for some grade levels. Starting the week of March 15, second graders will come back in person four days a week. Galasso said in some instances, students will be moved to bigger classrooms and furniture will be rearranged so that students can return and still follow social distancing guidelines. Third, fourth, and fifth graders will attend school four days per week starting in April. “Principals may be able to phase in some classes sooner depending on available space and classroom furniture,” Galasso said, adding that principals will provide parents with information about staggered return dates. Special education students in self-contained classes in the elementary schools will have in-person school five days a week.  

Officials said the number of remote-learning-only students in the district continues to decrease. The district has ordered new classroom cameras to make remote learners feel like they are a part of the in-person classroom, Galasso said.

Because of the number of students who will be traveling for spring break, schools will have a week of remote learning after the break. Students and staff members will return to schools for in-person learning on April 19. Students and staff members who travel out of the local area for spring break will be required to quarantine for 10 days after they return, regardless of their vaccine status, per CDC guidelines.

The schedule changes come about three weeks after parents began circulating a petition calling on the district to reopen schools for full-time, in-person instruction. More than 800 people have signed the petition.