As COVID Cases Rise, Case Study of a NJ District’s Decision to Go All-Remote

It’s hard to argue that Mt. Olive Superintendent Robert Zywicki hasn’t been trying to do right by his 4,000 students. Until right before Thanksgiving, the district was offering a hybrid learning schedule for students, with more time in school for students with disabilities. But all that changed Monday.

Why? Because over the last three weeks, according to a video Zywicki posted on the district website, COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising. Currently 50 staff members, “scores of students,” and three athletic teams are quarantined. 

And so Mt. Olive Middle School and High School will go all-remote until (at least) January 19th. Schools that serve students K-5 will remain open for specialized programs.

Give credit where credit is due: Zywicki says straightforwardly that this switch to all-remote instruction will be particularly hard on the 400 students with disabilities who had been receiving in-school instruction. 

From the Star-Ledger:

“We are trying to strike a balance in which we are providing instruction and assessment, primarily to all of our students who are remote, but at the same time there are some students who have IEPs, 504s, disabilities and special needs. That instruction does not work well through a Chromebook, or does not work remotely,” Zywicki said.

Parents of special needs students are suing schools that claim a Zoom occupational therapy session fulfills a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). At least Zywicki isn’t bothering with pretense. 

It’s unclear how many districts have moved to all-remote. Again, from the Star-Ledger:

At last count, 438 New Jersey school districts were operating under a hybrid model blending in-person and remote learning, state officials said. Another 246 districts are all-remote or moving to all-remote learning, 89 were offering all in-person classes and 38 were offering a blend of different models in various schools or grades.

Oddly, those numbers add up to 811 districts. New Jersey has 584, plus 88 public charter schools that are considered their own districts. Anyone with real numbers, please enlighten us using the comment area below. [Correction: My bad. Those numbers include private schools for students with disabilities.]

Here is the letter from Superintendent Zywicki that went out Monday evening:

December 1, 2020

Dear Parents/Guardians:

This letter is to inform you that multiple individuals at Mount Olive Middle School have tested positive for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The District is coordinating closely with public health officials and following CDC, state, and local health department guidance in order to ensure the health and safety of our community.  Due to multiple positive cases and pending presumptive cases Mount Olive Middle School will switch to full remote learning for all students and staff beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, December 2, 2020 through Thursday, December 17, 2020. 

Cleaning and disinfecting of all exposed areas has been completed. The school is also taking precautions to prevent the introduction and spread of viruses and other germs and is cleaning frequently touched surfaces daily. The status of this situation is fluid, and we are monitoring it closely.

We understand the level of concern regarding COVID-19. We encourage parents and students to continue following the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention promoted safeguards, such as:

  • Staying home when you are sick;
  • Washing hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds;
  • Covering coughs and sneezes and properly disposing of tissues;
  • Limiting close contact with people who are sick and not sharing food, drinks and utensils;
  • Practicing social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart);
  • Wearing a face covering while in school; and
  • Continuing to monitor your health for symptoms.

We appreciate our community’s support and cooperation. You can assist us by remaining vigilant but sensible in your approach to dealing with this health concern. To learn more, visit the MOTSD COVID-19 dashboard located on the MOTSD Reentry Plan Site.

Should you have any questions about this situation, please feel free to contact Dr. Susan Breton, Director at [email protected] or the Mount Olive Health Department at 973-691-0900.  

   Sincerely,

   Robert R. Zywicki, Ed.D.

   Superintendent of Schools

What do you think?