School superintendent vents frustration at state guidance change

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BRADLEY BEACH — New guidance from the state, requiring plexiglass barriers where social distancing cannot be maintained for students in small classrooms, had school personnel scrambling to secure enough barriers by Sept. 9.

The new requirement prompted criticism from Superintendent of Bradley Beach Stephen Wisniewski, who said the state education department has too often left his district, as well as others, out of the loop on the details of reopening requirements.

“This has definitely been the most stressful few months of my career this summer because it’s like every day, the target moves,” Mr. Wisniewski said.

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Previously, he said, schools with small classrooms, like those in Bradley Beach, were told that a face mask would constitute a sufficient barrier for students.

Now, he has to find 300 barriers before the start of the school year next month.

“Now that has left me scrambling to decide do we go to AB schedules or are we able to buy a barrier for every desk before the start of the school year,” the superintendent added. “Our building is not big enough to ever space our students six-feet apart, if we ever want to be in a scenario where everyone is in the school, we are going to need these barriers.”

“It is tremendously disappointing to find this out on Aug. 13 when the guidance came out on June 26 and our initial discussions about this was in the beginning of July,” Mr. Wisniewski added, saying that it would have given the district another month to be ready for the start of the year.

Going to the alternative of an AB hybrid schedule would mean that groups of students would attend school on different days in order to reduce the number of students in the building at any one time, an option the school’s Restart Committee had rejected.

Reverting to that option now would require the committee to reconvene and resubmit the change to the school board and the state for approval, Mr. Wisniewski said.

On Aug. 13, Gov. Phil Murphy signed executive order 175, allowing public schools to start the year with remote-only instruction.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our students and educators, and we must ensure that schools reopen their doors only when it is safe for them to do so,” the governor said.

“Since releasing our guidance on reopening, we have continued to have frequent discussions with stakeholders and educators across the state. Many districts have expressed that meeting critical health and safety criteria by the first day of school is proving to be a challenge. While we continue to believe that there is no substitute for being in the classroom, allowing districts to delay the implementation of in-person instruction will give them the time and flexibility they need to ensure buildings are ready and welcoming when they do open.”

But detailed communication from the state has been problematic, Mr. Wisniewski said. Superintendents do not get direct updates from the education department or the governor’s office and have to rely on social media to pick up changes.

“Superintendents do not get updates, so I read the newspaper and we watch Twitter,” he said. He said that he learned via Gov. Murphy’s Twitter feed about a recent change in state policy that would allow schools to start the academic year with remote learning only, if social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions are not possible.

“That has been one of the bigger concerns from superintendents,” Mr. Wisniewski said, “in that we get no advance notice of anything. We are just as reactionary to any of these decisions as our constituents.”

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