Vernon schools to go all-virtual after Thanksgiving

Vernon. Superintendent Karen D’Avino said the number of COVID-19 cases puts Sussex County in an orange zone that could be red by Thanksgiving.

23 Nov 2020 | 12:55

The Vernon Township School District will switch to a completely virtual model starting after the Thanksgiving holiday and through Jan. 18, 2021, Superintendent Karen D’Avino announced on Thursday.

Sussex County had 34.03 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people for the week ending Nov. 14, putting the county in an orange zone. D’Avino said she hopes it doesn’t happen, but that Sussex County could be in the red by Thanksgiving. Wallkill Valley Regional High School in Hamburg also switched to full virtual instruction as of Monday, Nov. 23.

The previous week, the county 24.22 cases per 100,000 people, which prompted the Department of Health to call the county’s superintendents into a Nov. 13 conference.

The return date to school on Tuesday, Jan. 19, if the country drops below 25 cases per 100,000 people and back into the yellow zone.

D’Avino and Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay have scheduled listening sessions with all faculty on Nov. 30 to continue collaborating on how to reopen schools safely and effectively.

The Department of Public Health reported on Nov. 16 that Vernon saw a 9 percent increase in positive COVID-19 test results. She said there had been no transmission of COVID-19 within Vernon Township schools but felt that it was only a matter of time before teachers and students inadvertently infected each other.

“When I looked at the numbers today, I was heartbroken because I knew I would have to make a decision that was going to further hurt our families and our community, that would further hurt our children, and hurt my children,” said D’Avino. “My children in the same position as many of yours.”

Parents have reported their children’s mental health has been suffering due to the isolation at home, and the promise of increased time in school and having that plan postponed.

The district had announced in October that starting Nov. 16, hybrid students would be in school four days a week. But the D’Avino announced at the Nov. 12 work session that the two-day per week hybrid model would continue through Thanksgiving break.

She said she felt the plan for Nov. 16 was a good one.

The cancellation came on a night where many parents came to the meeting stressing the need for more in-school time.

“As much as we all want to be in-person five days per week for full days, we haven’t been able to accommodate safety in that equation,” school board member Jennifer Pellet said. “We’re trying. We keep coming up with plans and something happens.”

There will be no instruction from Thursday, Dec. 24, through Friday, Jan. 1, due to winter recess.

“For those who know how I feel about students and schooling, our children belong here,” D’Avino said. “They belong with their teachers and friends in a school setting, learning in the best way possible. I will continue to strive to make a reality at five days a week, where possible before the end of the school year.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the decision by Wallkill Valley Regional High School to switch to all-virtual instruction.

“When I looked at the numbers today, I was heartbroken because I knew I would have to make a decision that was going to further hurt our families and our community, that would further hurt our children, and hurt my children.” Superintendent Karen D’Avino