Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio told the Board of Eduction on Tuesday night that the school district continues to plan for “all possible future scenarios” for the remainder of the current school year, and the fall. Dionisio said that he had been meeting with staff to brainstorm ideas, and that teachers and building principals had been having discussions as well. “Progress is being made,” he said. “I know it doesn’t always look that way because we’re still in the current schedule.”
A key factor in these plans is the continuing need to maintain six feet of distance between individuals in a school. “Should they reduce that six feet to less than six feet–to five feet to four feet to three feet, we will be able to get everyone in to our schools,” Dionisio said, “ … we’ll be able to do that, we’ll be able to do that pretty quickly.”
The superintendent shared more of his thinking around the possibility of grouping all students in one elementary grade in the same school building, an idea he first disclosed to the public on March 4. He said that doing so would allow class sizes to be brought down to a “manageable number” that could allow for more students to be in a building more of the time. He said that 50% of Verona’s elementary classes now have 20 students or more in them, but grouping all students in one grade in one building could bring the average class size down to 18 or 19, which would allow for more students to be in buildings five days a week.
“This is not ideal,” Dionisio conceded about pausing neighborhood schools for a year. “I know we wouldn’t be discussing this if it weren’t for the fact that we’re in a situation where we’re trying to be as creative as possible.” Families have been asked to respond by this evening to a survey about their plans for in-person or remote learning and whether they would support grouping students in buildings by classes instead of the multi-grade neighborhood elementary schools. Dionisio said that the district is also eyeing other options and that he would be putting out regular updates on all of them. BOE member Jim Day said later in the meeting that the district is looking into adding a bipolar ionization system to its HVAC units. Bipolar ionization is believed to be able to neutralize bacteria and viruses, among other things.
BOE member Sara Drappi then shared how she has been struggling through the pandemic. She is a special education teacher in another district who is also the mother of two young children. “Every week, I say, ‘is this is this right for me?’ Do I have to take a family leave to teach my kids to get this right? What are we doing? And then we start the week over again.”
“But,” she continued, “I have never once questioned the six feet of social distancing, and especially the past two weeks I was incredibly grateful for the fact that you have stuck with it, no matter what because of that’s what’s been recommended to you because you’re not a public health official nor should you act like one,” she said to Dionisio. “We should be following the public health guidance. I’m saying that because when I tested positive [for COVID], I was so grateful that my kids were six feet or more away from all the kids around them and their teachers who may or may not have been vaccinated already.”
In other news, Dionisio confirmed that Verona’s teachers have begun to register for COVID-19 vaccinations through Vanguard Medical Group. Gov. Phil Murphy advanced the start of teacher vaccinations to March 9 from March 15, but Dionisio said Vanguard still didn’t know how many doses it would be getting. About a third of Verona’s staff has been able to get vaccinated through other locations: Dionisio said 115 of Verona’s 350 staff members have gotten a shot.
The BOE also reviewed the new report by its new auditors, Nisivoccia LLP, which noted that while the district’s financial position has been improving, it could further tighten operating procedures and internal controls. The firm noted that Verona’s acting board secretary, Ernie Turner, has already taken steps to make that happen, and that Verona will be moving to a new accounting system. The BOE also disclosed that the Diversity action committee formed in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery will have its first meeting on March 16.
You can watch the meeting in full here.