Schools Prepare for September 9 Opening
By Donald Gilpin
As teachers, staff, parents, and more than 3,800 students of the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) prepare for the first day of school on Thursday, September 9, the district remains committed to in-person, full-day school for all.
“The past two school years have been unprecedented for schools everywhere,” new Superintendent Carol Kelley wrote to PPS families on August 20. “This three-pronged crisis (health, financial, and social) has been overwhelming for families, students, and staff. Yet I am encouraged and optimistic about the school year ahead.”
Kelley, who took over as superintendent two months ago, was scheduled to meet parents on September 2 on the front lawn of the Valley Road administrative building from 9 to 10 a.m. and again from 6 to 7 p.m. The event was postponed due to the local flooding.
She continued, “In terms of the health and safety of our students, we have a strong foundation to build on. Last school year, we had zero COVID cases transmitted in our schools. To date, we are fortunate that 77 percent of people (over age 12) in our Princeton community have been vaccinated. Through the safety protocols we have in place, we hope to maintain this record once we reopen school in September.”
Kelley highlighted the dedication of educators, parents, and community supporters and emphasized, “we are prepared to foster a school culture that’s welcoming and affirming for all, which is even more critical during this time. For the first time in over a year, our students will engage in full-day learning, five days a week in their respective school buildings.”
The Princeton Health Department has been meeting weekly with many Princeton schools to discuss planning and implementation of infection control and prevention strategies. “These are centered around increasing ventilation while maximizing instruction outside, improving of air filtration, not just mask wearing but proper wearing of quality masks, options for testing, expanded symptom checking, and quick and efficient contact tracing that removes unnecessary quarantine of students and staff,” said Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser.
An “Ask the Doctor” Facebook Live event scheduled for Tuesday, with district resident physician Dr. Robert F. Helmrich responding to questions about the return to school, had to be postponed due to technical problems.
Many parents and other members of the school community with concerns and questions wonder what to anticipate in the coming weeks and months as the PPS follows New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s mandate for the opening of schools to be fully in-person with all students and staff masked, and for all teachers and staff to be fully vaccinated or be tested frequently beginning October 18.
An August 27 district letter to PPS families cited the governor’s order and requirements from the Department of Education stipulating that the only option for remote learning is when a student is either in isolation due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or has been identified as a close contact needing to quarantine. Quarantining after travel is not included, and there is no option for remote learning due to concerns about virus spread.
If a student needs to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19, the district will provide remote instruction starting 24 hours after the quarantine or isolation period begins. The letter to families went on to state that “PPS will continue to monitor guidance from the NJ Department of Health and the Department of Education closely and will provide updates to our families when new information is received,” adding that a worsening situation locally or statewide could necessitate a change in course with the governor permitting remote learning as an option.
In an August 19 letter to families and staff, the PPS presented an overview of strategies designed to keep students and staff healthy and safe. The letter emphasized the mask requirement for all students and staff at school and on school buses, urged everyone eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccination, and noted that daily health screenings for students and staff would continue.
Other precautions that will be in place when school starts, according to the letter, include social distancing, cohorting, optimum ventilation and air quality standards, hand washing and respiratory etiquette, full cleaning and disinfection processes in all buildings, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine procedures when cases arise, travel restrictions in compliance with state guidelines, and more.
New Princeton High School (PHS) Principal Frank Chmiel looked forward to next week’s opening in his August 24 letter to the PHS learning community. “With the Delta variant and COVID-19 cases on the rise, we appreciate that it is a time of anxiety for students, families, and staff,” he wrote. “The safety of all members of our learning community is our top priority. We will abide by the governor’s directive to wear masks indoors and to follow physical distancing as well as other COVID-19 guidelines and protocols.”
He added, “Nonetheless, our educators will find ways to transcend these circumstances by taking the time to build positive relationships with students and provide instruction that is engaging and inclusive of our students’ interests and voices. We know that student social and emotional health and the joy of learning are equally as important as instructional rigor.”
He also called attention to the completed construction projects that will give a new look to the guidance offices, now the new “counseling services” suite, and the new satellite grab-n-go cafeteria in the former school store location.
An August 30 PPS website news bulletin describes in detail the measures in place to ensure healthy air quality in the schools. The district has installed Airedale Classmate units equipped with Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI) and MERV-13 filters in all classrooms in Princeton Middle School, Community Park, Johnson Park, Littlebrook, and Riverside.
NPBI has also been installed at PHS with the goal of having MERV-8 filters to function as effectively as MERV-13 filters, since the HVAC system at PHS is not designed to handle MERV-13 filters.
PPS decided to implement NPBI from Global Plasma Solutions last summer. The NPBI technology has been widely adopted in the airline industry, with positive results, and at many universities and other school districts. See “District News” at princetonk12.org for further details.