Stay in School: What’s the Criteria for Going Remote?

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Lawson Gill, staff writer

With current temporary shutdowns of schools around New Providence, and COVID-19 cases rising, one may wonder what the criteria for closing our schools are.

The New Providence School District does not have its own criteria, but uses New Jersey’s Health Department criteria. It is important to know that the Health Department takes into account the different bases with the case data before telling a school to close, as well as other things.

Dr. David Miceli

“They are getting case data on a state basis, a regional basis, and a municipality basis,” Superintendent Dr. David Miceli said.

“They look at a number of different factors,” NPHS Principal Brian Henry said. He listed out some of the factors: positivity rates, case rates in our region and COVID-like illnesses.

The determination of whether or not we move to a fully remote schedule is not just determined on a state basis, but a regional basis. We are part of the Central East region of New Jersey. Information about where a region stands in terms of cases and numbers is public information and can be found online.

According to Henry, there is a matrix of zones, which go from low risk (green), moderate risk (yellow), high risk (orange), and very high risk (red). If a region gets to the very high risk zone, they will switch to remote learning only.  As of yet, the Central East Region has not reached the very high risk zone.

“This week, the whole state is high,” Henry said.

Our school is given guidance from the Westfield Health Department, and they get their data from the state.

“We have a specific Department of Health representative,” said Miceli. “Her name is Megan Avallone, and she works out of the Westfield office.”

Whenever there is a case in New Providence, she communicates directly with the school district. She also shares what is happening in New Providence with other counties in the Central East Region. For the school to go remote only, she would be the one who would recommend it.

If an NPSD school ever had to go fully remote, it would likely only be the school that has the cases in concern that would shut down. However, since the middle school and the high school are in the same building, they are dependent on each other to stay open or shut down.

It is important to know that the schools closing to instruction is not what Henry wants. Even if there had to be a shutdown, he would not want it to last long.

“We would want to have students in as soon as possible,” he said.

Brian Henry

He also said that most periods of remote learning would only last 2 weeks for the incubation period to end. Henry is very happy that there has not been a shutdown yet, and calls the efforts very collaborative.

Even though the staff generally does not want a shutdown, there will be one that lasts before and after the Christmas/winter break. However, there were specific scientific reasons for doing so.

“One of the major concerns is that there are very limited substitute teachers theses days, so if we ran into a problem where a whole host of teachers reached out to me on the back-end of that break saying that they had to quarantine because of potential exposure and/or traveling requirements, we would be in a tough way to keep schools open,” said Miceli. “It would encourage folks if they needed to travel and/or wanted to travel, or they were going to be visiting family, that they would do it during this long break as opposed to Teacher’s Convention or Thanksgiving.”

Both Miceli and Henry expressed the hope the schools can stay open for instruction, like the district has done so far.

“I just want to commend all of the students and all of the teachers, staff members and parents who have been doing, I believe, a tremendous job over the past four months and keeping us healthy and safe as a community,” said Miceli.