October 7, 2020

Youngest PPS Students Go Back to School In Person

By Donald Gilpin

For the first time in seven months, except for orientation sessions, Community Park, Johnson Park, Littlebrook, and Riverside elementary schools opened their doors to welcome back students, who have been working remotely since the pandemic shutdown on March 13.

About 200 special needs students, along with Cohort A students in pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade attended the four district elementary schools on Monday, October 5 and Tuesday October 6, and Princeton Public Schools (PPS) students in Cohort B will return to the elementary schools for classes on Thursday and Friday.  Wednesdays are all-remote learning and cleaning day at the elementary schools.

“The kids were ecstatic, happy to see their friends,” said Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso on Monday. “It was a fantastic first day. We were able to observe our protocols today, and faculty and principals did a great job.”

He continued, “For pre-K it was the first time they’d been to the school, and for the first day of kindergarten, it’s a life experience that we all have, one that the kids won’t forget. We had our entire administrative team working, with multiple administrators at each school, and it was a very smooth process. I am proud of our teachers, our principals, and all of our staff.”

In the whole district, about 75 percent of families opted to participate in the phased-in, hybrid plan, Galasso noted, while about 25 percent have opted to continue to work entirely remotely. Of the 432 students in pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade, there are 328 students who signed up for hybrid learning and 104 participating in remote-only classes.

As the phase-in continues, students in second through fifth grade are scheduled to return to the schools next Monday, October 12, and students in the middle and high schools plan to return in person for hybrid learning on October 19.

Last Friday, October 2, a Community Park (CP) teacher tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating for 14 days. The teacher had been at CP earlier in the week and had had limited contact with other staff members. No students were present. The teacher had contracted COVID outside of school, Galasso said.

The Princeton Health Department was alerted and conducted contact tracing. No significant contacts (defined as being within six feet of a person who tests positive for COVID for ten minutes or more) were identified, but some individuals who had brief but not significant contact have independently sought testing. All staff members were encouraged to contact the Princeton Health Department and/or their personal physicians if they had had substantial contact with the infected individual. The Health Department advised that CP could open on October 5. Health officials will continue to work with the school administration and nursing staff to monitor developments.

Galasso noted that all school nurses had been trained in contact tracing, “and some of our nurses have been working with the Princeton Health Department doing contact tracing since last March, so they’re very good at it,” he said.

Galasso pointed out the high standards of cleanliness in the buildings and the schools’ strict adherence to health protocols. “Everything was ready for the kids today,” he said on Monday afternoon. “I was very pleased with the condition of the buildings. We’ve been working six or seven days a week and we’ve supplemented our regular cleaning protocols with an outside company who are doing a really good job in supporting our custodial staff.”

Health measures include pre-screening documents that parents fill in online before coming into the school, temperature takers at all entry points, and electronic temperature-taking devices in all the schools. “I was at four schools today, so I had my temperature taken four times, plus at the administration building,” Galasso said, “so I felt pretty comfortable.”

As the phase-in continues in the coming weeks, Galasso is optimistic but cautious. “Transmission rates are starting to rise in the state, so you don’t know,” he said. “The nice thing about what we have in Princeton is an outstanding health department, unbelievable partners in developing protocols. These people have spent hours of their time working with our special education director and all of our medical staff in the schools.”

He mentioned, among others, the Public Health Officer Jeff Grosser, the Public Health Nurse Kathy Korwin, Dr. George DiFerdinando of the Princeton Board of Health, and Dr. Robert Helmrich, the PPS district physician. 

“We’re very fortunate,” Galasso said. “These people are dedicated to the kids of Princeton.”