By MADDY VITALE
The Ocean City School District continues to work on ways to remain open for hybrid learning.
Over the last few weeks there have been adjustments to scheduling and upgrades are taking place to technology, which could eventually allow for livestreaming in all classrooms.
But the latest addition to the school operations during the pandemic is the formation of a COVID-19 committee. That was the main focus of a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday conducted by Zoom and teleconference.
In a report, board member Dr. Patrick Kane, chairman of the newly formed COVID-19 committee, said the district has heard the concerns from parents and students.
“Your board is listening. We are working and responding and taking action,” said Dr. Kane, an orthopedic surgeon.
The goal, Dr. Kane said, is to return the schools to in-person learning five days a week by February.
The district is in talks with the city about extra space that would enable more students to be in school at one time. The hope, Dr. Kane noted, is to have concurrent learning or live streaming for core-curriculum and increased in-person time.
The Ocean City district closed on March 16 at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a day before Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to shut down schools statewide.
The following day, Ocean City schools offered the hybrid learning model, which combines virtual and in-person instruction for students.
Over recent weeks, other school districts in the region have had to switch to all-virtual learning due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
In order for Ocean City’s schools to remain open, Dr. Kane emphasized the need to social distance, avoid large gatherings, wear masks and follow all COVID-19 safety protocols, especially over the holidays.
“Our main goal is and will continue to be to keep schools open, and with this effort, we hope for full in-school learning by February 1,” he said in a statement. “Ultimately, our community will be a huge deciding factor in how teaching will go in the New Year. It’s really a group effort in and outside of school.”
Both Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor and Board of Education President Joseph Clark agreed that the focus has been, and will always be, to have students back to school full time.
“Our goal always has been to stay in school, and when we can, bring our students back in school safely,” Dr. Taylor said. “We know they belong in school. We know they want to be in school.”
Clark echoed those sentiments in an interview after the board meeting. He also emphasized the importance and the impact the new committee with Dr. Kane at the helm could have in the district.
“Everyone wants their kids back to school five days a week, but it has to be done so everyone is safe,” Clark said. “We recognize as educators and volunteers on the board that most of us don’t have the medical expertise. We are lucky Dr. Kane is on the board.”
During the public portion of the meeting, Ocean City parent Ashley Madden, a mother of four and wife of City Councilman Peter Madden, thanked the board for instituting some changes in scheduling and other improvements sought by families during recent Board of Education and City Council meetings.
“From last meeting to this meeting, there have been huge changes for the kids,” Madden said. “I just wanted to say thank you and I appreciate it.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Madden,” Clark said, adding that the district appreciated her comments and that it continues to make changes as needed.
Clark said that the COVID-19 committee would assist the board and keep the members apprised of the latest medical information and guidance involving the pandemic.
“This is a one-of-a-kind, amazing opportunity and the way the board should go. I am relieved that they can assist us in an area we are not trained in,” Clark said of the committee. “I am hoping other districts emulate what we are doing.”
Dr. Kane noted in his statement that although the COVID-19 transmission rate is high within the state, the rate of transmission within New Jersey schools is extremely low, according to statistics.
“We, as the board, are echoing CDC information and right now, the numbers are showing that the majority of this illness is being spread outside of school. The rate of transmission in schools is low,” Dr. Kane said. “I’m asking that everyone make a positive contribution to help keep our community safe, especially with the holidays coming up.”
For more information, visit the Ocean City School District website at oceancityschools.org.