Staff shortage of 250 forces 6 schools in Freehold Regional to go virtual
All six schools in the Freehold Regional High School district have shifted to an all-remote start in September based on a staff shortage, the Monmouth County district announced Wednesday, while blaming the change in part on the state’s “poorly developed plan.”
Workplace accommodations and leave requests involving a total of 250 staff and faculty, a majority of them teachers, left the district unable to begin the fall with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction, schools Superintendent Charles Samspon said.
The district — which is made up of Colts Neck High School, Farmingdale High School, Freehold High School, Freehold Township High School, Manalapan High School and Marlboro High School — employs roughly 1,300 staff members, 900 of them teachers, according to Sampson.
Staffing needs are expected to be met in time for an Oct. 19 transition to a hybrid schedule.
Sampson said the district’s reopening plan includes temperature scanning devices, personal protective equipment, reconfigured classrooms, touchless fixtures in bathrooms and high touch areas and effective cleaning equipment — all beyond minimum standards in state guidance.
The district also reviewed all ventilation and HVAC systems to meet CDC recommendations, after hiring outside engineers and energy specialists, while also addressing internet connectivity and Chromebook needs for students.
Sampson said in the online letter that the situation stemmed from a “haphazard approach to reopening schools from state officials.”
Gov. Phil Murphy issued an Executive Order on August 13, which allowed districts to delay the start of in-person instruction and start the school year on full remote instruction.
“In allowing this remote choice, he opened the door to a cascading series of events that placed intense staffing pressures on schools committed to opening as they struggle to remain open as neighboring districts shutter their doors,” Sampson said.
At a state briefing Wednesday, when asked about the situation of districts being forced to begin all-remote based on staffing concerns, Murphy said “The only comment I would have is that these plans remain fluid and we're quite impressed.”
The governor also said that the majority of school reopening plans submitted are a hybrid model, adding “I think each of these districts, the superintendents, the leadership, are putting the plans together with the realities that they face in their particular district and their plans reflect that.”
The state Department of Education had signed off on 353 school reopening plans as of Tuesday, a spokesman confirmed to New Jersey 101.5.
Those completed plans involve school districts, charter and renaissance schools, and Approved Private Schools for Students with Disabilities (APSSD), but not other private or parochial schools.
Also as of Tuesday, 62 school plans involved all in-person instruction starting in September.
A day earlier at Monday’s state briefing, Murphy said that at least 180 school plans submitted involved an all-remote start.
“The majority of our parents wished for students to return to our buildings and we worked diligently to ensure they could in the safest way possible. Unfortunately, the statewide piecemeal approach for the reopening of schools has put many school districts in this situation,” Sampson said in the online letter.
Sampson said the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) as passed by Congress and signed into law by the President last March, expanded the existing employee leave provisions of the long-standing Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Freehold Regional, like many other schools around the state, has made changes to its all remote approach for the fall, compared to what remote lessons looked like in March through June.
All students will attend classes synchronously, with real-time instruction online. Last spring, live instruction was sparse across New Jersey as schools were first derailed by the coronavirus health emergency.
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