September 23, 2020

PPS Back to School: May Start In-Person Phase-in on October 5

By Donald Gilpin

Keeping a close eye on COVID-19 transmission rates and guidance from local and state health officials, Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso is ready to propose the next step of a phased-in schooling plan, with Pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, and self-contained special needs classes K-12 possibly going into the schools in person on October 5.

In the first 10 days of school, PPS students have been learning virtually, remotely from home through a new learning management system that is reportedly much improved over last spring’s flawed system.

Galasso said on Friday, September 18 that the buildings should be ready for the youngest and the special needs contingents on October 5, for all the elementary students by October 12, and for middle and high school students by October 19, but he acknowledged that he can’t predict the course of COVID-19.

“I can predict HVAC schedules,” he said. “I can ascertain whether teachers will be ready to teach, but I can’t figure out the virus. That’s a wild card. We’re going to have to play that by ear. I can’t predict what will occur.” He pointed out that the number of cases in Princeton has risen in recent weeks, and he noted that both Hopewell Valley Central High School and West Windsor-Plainsboro’s  Community Middle School had to close temporarily last week after hybrid openings followed by reporting of new coronavirus cases.

Galasso remained optimistic that the plan will stay on track. He will be visiting the schools on this Thursday and Friday and consulting with medical experts before making a final decision. The decision will be announced at the September 29 Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

The district reported on Monday, September 21 that none of the six PPS schools had issues with staffing. More than 100 teachers and staff had applied for accommodations, most seeking arrangements to continue to work remotely for health reasons. Most of those requests were reportedly denied.

Galasso declined to comment further on private personnel issues, but pointed out, “We’re working with individual teachers, and I think that’s the appropriate thing to do. We have offered some people administrative work-at-home
options when it meets the needs of both the faculty member and the student base. At the moment I’m confident that we will be able to open with the staff that have indicated that they are willing to teach in the hybrid model.”

He continued, “We have very dedicated teachers and staff. They want to get back to live instruction. They just need to feel confident that everything possible is going to be done to keep students and staff healthy.  That’s what we’re attempting to do. We’re working with medical professionals. We’re working with our custodial staff. We’ve brought in outside people to supplement their efforts. We’ve brought in contractors to paint and clean, filters to ionize the air. Whatever can be done is being done.”

Galasso applauded the BOE. “There’s not a request that I’ve made that they have not agreed to,” he said.

Staffing and social distancing concerns have been alleviated by about 25 percent of families, according to the most recent district survey, that have decided not to send their children into the schools when they open in October, but to continue with remote learning. 

Galasso reported on a successful first week of remote learning with mostly positive feedback from all quarters.  “I feel good about that,” he said. “In the first week all the moving parts — the administration, the faculty and staff, the kids, the parents — it’s a team effort and they have all performed very well. It has improved every single day. The glitches, the snafus here and there are being tended to. It’s a total team effort, but I’d say that we’re moving towards our goal of providing a robust environment for our kids.”