For the fall of 2021, PPS will do everything in its control to bring back all Princeton Public Schools students back to full-time, in-person instruction every day. The obstacles we face will include the status of the pandemic and whether staff and students feel comfortable in person, as well as mandates from the State of New Jersey, including the Governor, the State Legislature and the Department of Education. As a public governing body, the Board of Education is required to follow federal, state and local law, regulations and guidance.
Our administrators are now planning for the full opening of school in September, which, because of uncertain and shifting state guidance, also requires the development of alternative scenarios. Citizens who would like to help ensure the likelihood that PPS is able to return to full-time school in September should reach out to state legislators and the governor’s office to express your concerns and to urge state officials to provide public school administrators, as soon as possible, with clear guidance on the rules that will govern school operations for the 2021–2022 school year.
We understand that guidance may shift as the conditions surrounding COVID-19 are fluid and apt to change, but there are basic questions that must be answered quickly. Here are several such questions:
- Will the State of New Jersey continue to mandate 6 feet of social distancing as authorized in the Road Back plan, or will it allow 3 to 6 feet of social distancing, which is allowed by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics? The answer to this question impacts our classroom capacities and thus determines the length and frequency of in-person instruction.
- Will the State of New Jersey mandate universal mask-wearing in public schools in fall 2021? This question assumes that some students will not be vaccinated prior to the opening of school and that vaccinations for students will be difficult to mandate.
- Will the State of New Jersey mandate vaccinations for all school employees? If so, school districts will need clear guidance as such determinations may impact contracts and staffing.
- Will parents be provided the option to select an all-virtual instructional model? The answer to this question fundamentally impacts how we will build our class rosters. The governor has indicated this option will be unavailable, but if there is a reversal, class rosters and schedules will be dramatically affected.
- Will school districts have the ability to shift to a virtual environment if there is a spike in cases in our community? School closures related to health and safety considerations may be inevitable in the fall, and virtual learning is preferable to full closure.
- Will school districts be allowed to provide flexible instructional models, such as half-day in-person and virtual afternoons? Many school facilities cannot provide a socially distanced lunch for all students.
- Will the State of New Jersey relax requirements limiting the utilization of outside structures for instruction, as well as lunch and masks breaks?
- Will the recommendations regarding social distancing on transportation routes remain in effect? The answer to this question determines the number of students who can ride together to school. It also has a significant effect on extracurricular activities and athletic programs.
- Will the State of New Jersey authorize emergency certifications due to the high number of anticipated retirements coupled with shortages of new teachers and a limited substitute teacher pool? We are in dire need of certified staff, given growing shortages that will cause systemic vacancies.
- Will the State of New Jersey allow students who are in teacher education programs and have less than 60 credit hours to substitute on an emergency basis?
11. What will the requirements be for before- and after-school care?
School districts need guidance today so that we can properly plan for tomorrow.
We are working now to create the frameworks for the 2021–2022 school year. Over the next three months, we will finalize staffing, budgeting, student and teacher schedules and bus routes. For the summer, we are planning extended school year, extension and enrichment programs.
- District News