The Camden School District on Tuesday released a plan to reopen schools in September with a hybrid model that allows parents to choose some in-person learning or all-remote instruction for their children.
Under a preliminary plan presented to the school board by Superintendent Katrina McCombs, students would be divided into two groups, and would spend two consecutive days in school and the remaining three days learning at home.
Parents may also opt for all-remote learning, McCombs said. Nearly 60% of parents have indicated they were uncomfortable sending their children to school because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
Those who select virtual or online learning cannot switch to in-person learning until the second semester at the end of January. The deadline to sign up is next Wednesday.
McCombs acknowledged that the plan, released during the virtual school board advisory meeting, could change. Schools across the region are struggling with the logistics of reopening buildings while maintaining social distancing.
“These plans are fluid. These plans can change at any moment,” McCombs said. “We recognize that this virus continues to be a great unknown.”
During a public comment period, some board members, teachers, and residents expressed concerns about potential health hazards and the effectiveness of remote learning. McCombs has said one-third of the district’s teachers have said they may not return in September. No additional hires are planned and substitute teachers will be used to fill vacancies, she said.
McCombs outlined a list of safety precautions, including symptom and temperature checks — on students and staff — to be conducted at home, sanitizing stations, better ventilation, and one-direction hallways to aid in social distancing.
In a statement, Camden Education Association president Keith Benson said the union, which represents teachers and support staff, “for a variety of health and safety reasons” favors all-remote learning.
McCombs said state guidelines don’t allow a remote-only model for the entire district. About 6,800 students are enrolled in the city’s 18 traditional public schools; 4,350 in 11 charter schools, and 3,850 in 11 Renaissance schools
Under the hybrid model, in-person learning would occur between 8:15 a.m. and 1 p.m., with staggered dismissals. Desks will be spaced 6 feet apart, and all students and staff must wear masks in the classroom and on buses. Special needs students would get in-person learning Mondays through Thursdays and virtual instruction on Fridays.
McCombs said younger students would be kept in classrooms and the teacher would change rooms. Siblings would be scheduled for the same in-person learning cycle.
No meals would be served in schools, according to McCombs. Instead, students would be given a take-home lunch, dinner, and breakfast meals for the next day when they are dismissed, she said. For students who do only remote learning, meals will be available at satellite locations.
In other business, McCombs also announced that the state has cut $4 million from the district’s budget for the 2020-21 school year. She said the district will have to make unspecified changes to balance the budget.
McCombs said the district has made slight gains in its fiscal management, one of five areas required for improvement before Camden can return to local control. Camden has been operating under a state takeover since 2013.