The Vernon Township School District proposed a plan at last Thursday night’s work session that will have hybrid students in school four days per week starting Nov. 16.
The plan, presented by Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay, Director of Math and Science Russ Rogers, and Director of Humanities Vincent Gagliostro, would combine the Blue and Gold cohorts. Wednesday will be a synchronous virtual day when hybrid and virtual students will be in class together. “Our goal for Wednesday is to bring the virtual students and hybrid students together to get that sense again that they’re together,” McKay said.
The district will remain on a compressed schedule, as McKay said the district is “still struggling with lunch.”
With the number of students in the buildings doubled, masks will continue to be mandated and social distancing enforced.
Each student will be provided with an age-appropriate transparent trifold screen, and teachers will be provided with additional PPE and technology. The students will transport screens from class to class, and elementary screens will remain in the classroom. “We want the screens to remain in school,” McKay said. “We don’t want them brought home.”
The new plan will double live contact time with teachers and bring the students a step closer to normalcy. Hybrid students will need to provide their own transportation to school only for sports or extracurricular activities on Wednesday.
“Having additional students in the building creates anxiety,” Superintendent Karen D’Avino said. “Right now, 30 percent of our students are virtual. This change could make it 40 percent virtual.”
Having more students in school could necessitate scheduling changes, therefore district officials have said they need to hear from parents by Oct. 23 if they plan to change their child’s status from hybrid to virtual or vice versa. “We need that from the community so we can assess things that are going to happen for the next phase,” D’Avino said.
Real, virtual frustrations
School board member Jen Pellet said she was concerned that that no one was talking about the virtual kids. She has two children at home learning virtually. “Many kids have never set eyes on their teacher,” Pellet said. “That’s crazy to me, and it’s not the teacher’s fault.”
D’Avino said she understands. She said her son had trouble saving a document in the virtual program, vexing him and his teacher. “There are so many barriers that cause frustration,” D’Avino said. “It’s not working for teachers and it’s not working for parents because they’re frustrated. It’s not working for the kids because they don’t have enough time learning.”
School board member Natalie Buccieri was concerned about the lack of a timeline to have kids in school for a full day. “We need some date other than ‘in the future’,” she said.
The district has virtual-only teachers at the elementary level, but it’s more of a struggle in grades 6-12 because there isn’t enough staff to have secondary virtual-only teachers.
School board president Justin Annunziata wondered when teachers were going to teach virtual students when the district goes to a full-day schedule. School board member Brad Sparta said he was disgusted with the plan.
“As a district, we are failing every single one of our kids right now, whether they are hybrid or virtual,” Sparta said. “We have schools right next to us that are going five days a week. They are having lunches. They are not having any cases. And here we are, we keep on acquiescing back on something we plan to do. I am beyond disappointed in the direction we have decided to go with this.”
Despite the struggles, McKay emphasized that the teachers, professional staff, students, and children have worked very hard and are doing “phenomenal work”.
“There have been times people have said things about our folks that have been hurtful,” McKay said. “I want people know that hurt goes many ways. We are in an anxious time in this town, this state, and this country, and that anxiety is showing up everywhere. I just want everybody to take a pause and realize where we are.”