SPRING LAKE — H.W. Mountz Elementary School has chosen Feb. 22 as its target date to move into Stage Three of its four-stage reopening in which students will return to school for full-day in-person instruction, Superintendent Stephen LaValva announced in a letter to the school community on Monday.
Currently, the school is in Stage Two of its reopening plan that has students attend school for in-person instruction on a half-day schedule, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. with some students opting to learn remotely. Students wear masks and remain socially distanced in addition to other safety protocols. In the Stage Three full-day schedule, students would remain in school until 3 p.m. and all safety guidelines would stay in use. Stage Four of the plan would be a return to full normalcy.
At the Spring Lake Board of Education meeting on Nov. 23, the school had eyed the possibility of moving into Stage Three on Tuesday, Jan. 19, however Mr. LaValva said the school is not fully prepared to make that step just yet.
“Based on the overall impact the pandemic is currently having on our students, their families and our faculty, we are not in a position where we will be able to make the transition to full-day instruction at this time,” Mr. LaValva wrote in the letter.
“We have identified the target date of Feb. 22, 2021 as a potential date to make the transition from our current schedule to a full-day schedule. We will continue to monitor our data points and we will reevaluate as we get closer to this date.”
Mr. LaValva said that the pushback is out of a concern of the recent spike in positive cases seen in Spring Lake since its Nov. 23 board meeting when the Jan. 19 date was tentatively chosen as when Stage Three would begin.
“What jumped out to me was that on Nov. 23 when we met as a board, we had a total of 63 cases in Spring Lake from March until then, so about eight months. Since then, approaching the date of Jan. 19 we doubled. We have over 130 cases now. It took us eight months to get to 60 and six weeks to get to 130 so there’s a significant spike happening,” Mr. LaValva told The Coast Star.
There are additionally logistic concerns, such as having enough teachers and substitutes available in the event that a teacher must quarantine.
At the Nov. 23 meeting, one of the biggest obstacles the board discussed in making the move to full-day learning was lunch.
One of the possibilities for dealing with lunch on a full-day schedule would be to have as many students as possible be picked up and go home for lunch and then return to school for the latter part of the day, which Mr. LaValva said is still “likely” but not “certain” looking towards Feb. 22.
In a survey sent out to parents in November, about 46 percent of parents stated they could pick up their children at lunchtime, which would leave only about 70 to 80 students remaining to eat lunch in school, making socially distanced spacing much more possible.
A significant number of students did not attend classes in person during the first week back as they self-quarantine after holiday travels, which is expected to happen again after the school’s winter break.
“We saw a good number of children had to quarantine as a result from travel. And we expect the same when we return [from break] in February, which is part of the other reason why I thought it would be more prudent to wait after the February [break] to return to our full day,” Mr. LaValva said.
“Hopefully by February some of our teachers will be vaccinated. Hopefully by February there’s a break in the whole pandemic outside of Spring Lake [and] see numbers in a downward trend,” he said.
“Again, that Feb. 22 is a target date,” Mr. LaValva emphasized. “We can hit it, but I cannot say for certain that we can until we know what we’re looking at at that time.”
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