New Program to Help Schoolchildren During Pandemic

New Program to Help Schoolchildren During Pandemic

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Wearing a face covering for protection from the coronavirus, Dan Kelchner, director of Ocean City's Community Services, outlines plans for a new program for schoolchildren during remarks to City Council.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Ocean City is stepping in to provide students at the primary and intermediate schools some of the social and recreational activities that otherwise would have been lost because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dan Kelchner, director of the city’s Community Services department, called it an “incredibly unique” program that will also feature a strong social component for the children while they are dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our emphasis will be on the kids who need it most,” Kelchner said while announcing the program Thursday night during a City Council meeting.

Ocean City’s school district is planning to use a hybrid model of learning for the 2020-2021 academic year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the hybrid schedule, students will report for in-person instruction with their assigned cohorts – either O or C – for two full days of learning, and then participate in three days of virtual learning each week.

Staff will report for training the week of Sept. 1, and then school buildings will open to students on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Alternatively, families will have the opportunity to enroll their children in the Ocean City Virtual Academy, the district’s full-time virtual learning program.

With students physically out of school for most of the time during the pandemic, they will not have the same social and recreational opportunities as they would if they were in the classroom.

The Community Services department plans to work with the school district on the city’s social and recreational program to fill the void. Another organization that will be involved is OCNJ CARE, a nonprofit local group that is helping the community cope with the emotional and financial difficulties of the pandemic.

Kelchner said he believes the program will provide a “giant, giant help” for the emotional and physical well-being of the children and their families.

The program will be held outdoors and will run for seven weeks through Oct. 30. During three-hour sessions in the afternoon, soccer, cross country and field hockey will be among the sports that are offered.

At the same time, there will be other activities to help the children develop social skills, Kelchner and Mayor Jay Gillian explained.

“I think it’s important that kids be around other kids,” Gillian told the Council members.

Children will be in the classroom only twice a week this year, with three days reserved for remote learning. This photo shows Ocean City Primary School students getting ready for a new year in September 2019. (Photo credit: JASM Consulting)

Activities for the new program will take place at the Ocean City Music Pier, the Eighth Street recreation area, Palmer Field and on the beaches.

The city will follow the same COVID-19 safety protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the state and county health departments. The children will undergo temperature checks, screening and will have to wear masks, Kelchner said.

Gillian emphasized that the city will work with the children’s families to make the program safe.

The cost of the program will be $25 per week. For families that may have difficulty affording the cost, a special scholarship program will be available to help them out, Kelchner noted.

In other business at the Council meeting, City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson announced that a new ordinance is being developed to address the complaints about litter and other debris flying out of construction dumpsters and commercial trash containers.

She said the ordinance will clarify the requirements for the dumpsters and trash containers, including whether they must be covered. She assured the Council members that the city’s code enforcement officer is doing his job in enforcing the dumpster and trash container regulations.

The trash containers used by commercial businesses must be covered at all times. However, construction dumpsters are not required to have covers, although they must be emptied on a regular basis, McCrosson said.

McCrosson said it appears that some of the complaints about litter and trash stem from confusion over the differences between the containers and the dumpsters. New language will be incorporated in the upcoming ordinance to clarify the different requirements, she noted.

Some of the Council members listen to remarks during the meeting.

In other remarks to Council, McCrosson also clarified the difference between the political signs that are used by candidates running for elected office and political flags flown by homeowners on their own property.

While there are city regulations limiting the use of political signs, private property owners are allowed to fly political flags without restrictions as part of their constitutional rights, she pointed out.

If someone has an offensive or “off-color” remark inscribed on their flags, the city may ask them to remove it, but the property owner is not required to take it down, according to McCrosson

She told the Council members that the city has been seeing more and more of the political flags with the approach of the November election.

“There’s no regulation of those flags,” she said.

Councilman Michael DeVlieger said he has fielded calls from local residents about the political flags.

“I tell them, ‘Fly away. It’s America,’” DeVlieger said of his advice to property owners who have the flags.