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HBW, VHS Take Big Step Back To Pre-Pandemic Instruction


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Verona public schools
On Wednesday, May 5, the days of alternating small groups of students in Verona High School and H.B. Whitehorne Middle School will come to an end: All students who have opted for in-person learning will be welcomed back into those buildings and they will be there, Monday to Friday, for the rest of the school year. It won’t be exactly like the everybody-in-all-the-time schedule that was the norm before the pandemic, but it will be a lot closer to that than school life has been since March 2020.

After shifting to all-remote instruction at the start of COVID-19, Verona’s schools brought some students back into their six buildings last October, but only in small groups dubbed cohorts and only for half a day. The new policy, which Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio announced to parents by email on Thursday evening, April 29, consolidates all the cohorts into one at each school. High school students will take their lunch break off school grounds because the cafeteria still can’t operate at capacity, but they will return to VHS in the afternoon. Middle school students will be in HBW through midday, break for lunch, and then finish out the school day online from their homes. In both schools, students must be a minimum of 3 feet apart and everyone in the building must continue to wear a mask.

The return to a single cohort schedule became possible in late April when COVID activity in our area dropped to the “moderate” level established by state and federal health authorities. On March 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had revised its guidance for K12 schools to cut the distance between students in elementary school classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet and Verona’s elementary schools welcomed all students back soon thereafter.  In middle schools and high schools, the guidance was at least 3 feet apart where community transmission was low, moderate, or substantial, but at least 6 feet where transmission was high. In the Northeast region that included Verona, transmission was then high, so HBW and VHS had to maintain 6 feet and their cohorts.  

The policy that starts on Wednesday does not mean that every Verona student will be learning in person, however. Some families had opted for remote-learning only and if their students want to go back to in-person instruction, they must request a change from their building principal and wait for approval. While the space needed between students has shrunk, not every learning space could accommodate all students 3 feet apart if they all returned to school. So administrators will need to look, class by class, to see what would be possible. “We’re going to try to accommodate all requests, but it will take time,” Dr. Dionisio said in an interview over the weekend.

Right now,  the majority of elementary school students have resumed in-person instruction. According to Dr. Dionisio, the percentages range from 89% at Laning Avenue, to 93% at F.N. Brown, 95% at Forest Avenue and 98% at Brookdale, a school that has only 131 students enrolled, compared to 272 at Brown. The percentages are far lower at the middle school and high school: 83% at HBW and just 69% at VHS.

“It is exciting to be able to return all of our students back into our buildings after being in remote and hybrid learning for more than a year,” Dr. Dionisio said in his email. “Thank you for your flexibility, cooperation, and continued support. We look forward to taking this next step with you and returning the positive energy and enthusiasm back into our classrooms.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


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