N.J. kids may not be in class 5 days a week when schools reopen. Here are 3 possible ‘hybrid’ plans. | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children

When New Jersey officials announced their long-awaited guidelines Friday for reopening public schools for 2020-2021 school year, there was one big caveat: Schools don’t have to bring students back every day.

Instead, school districts can come up with “hybrid” or “split” schedules that could mean only half or a third of students come into school buildings on alternating days or weeks — leaving the rest at home to continue “remote learning.”

Officials from several school districts — including West Orange, Mount Olive, Hopewell, Manville, Northern Valley Regional and Denville — have already said they are considering versions of hybrid schedules. More districts are expected to follow.

Most said they are considering versions of “A” and “B” schedules where only half of their students come into school on alternating days or weeks so there is enough room for social distancing in classrooms.

“We’re looking at a phased in approach to reopen our four buildings come September,” said Manville Superintendent Robert Beers. “We’re looking at an A/B schedule, but we don’t know if it’s going to be A days and B days — or a weekly schedule.”

Many school officials say the state’s new guidelines make it impossible for every student to come to class every school day when schools reopen for the new year. The recommendations, outlined in the state education department’s 104-page “The Road Back” report, say classroom desks need to be six feet apart or have barriers between them. The guidelines also say students should to maintain a social distance at lunch, gym and on buses.

Most New Jersey classrooms are not set up to accommodate that kind of spacing and few districts have enough buses to keep students sitting six feet apart, school officials said. So, that means school officials need to find a way to limit the number of students coming into their buildings each day.

The state’s reopening guidelines suggest three alternatives:

Six-day rotation: No, it doesn’t mean classes will be offered six days a week. Under this plan, students in each grade are divided up equally into three sections: a red team, a blue team and a green team. Then, each team is rotated into the school for in-person classes every third day. So, on Monday, or Day 1, the green team goes to school to spend the day in class with their teacher, while the red and blue teams stay home for remote learning. On Tuesday, or Day 2, it’s the red team’s turn to go to class. On Wednesday, the blue team goes in, and so on. A six-day rotation means the day of the week students go to school or stay home will change each week. But the system will accommodate some districts’ existing schedules, which already operate on six-day rotations for classes, specials and extracurricular activities.

A/B weeks by grade: Students go to school alternating weeks based on their grade. So, in a high school, grades 9 and 10 would have in-person classes with their teachers for a full week designated an “A” week while grades 11 and 12 stay home for remote learning. The following week is a “B” week, so grades 11 and 12 go to school while the other grades stay home for 5 days. Keeping kids in school or at home for longer stretches ”may provide the opportunity for educators to execute more comprehensive remote instruction on their alternate weeks,” the state guidelines said.

A/B weeks across grades: Students in each grade are split up into two teams. (Some districts have suggested classes would be split in half based on the first letter of a student’s last name.) One team goes to school for in-person classroom days during “A” weeks, while the other half of their class stays home for distance learning. Then, they switch for “B” weeks. So, teachers only see half of their students for in-person classes each week.

It’s up to each of New Jersey’s more than 500 school districts to come up with a plan that best fits their needs. The only rule is that every school must have some in-person learning. Districts are not permitted to continue keeping their schools closed while all students continue remote learning every day, state officials said.

The state guidelines acknowledge the hybrid options and split schedules may be difficult for families, especially those with young children who will need childcare for the alternating days or weeks students are assigned remote learning. In many cases, an adult will also need to help elementary school students with their remote school work during the days they are home.

In Hopewell, district officials are considering a hybrid schedule. But, Superintendent Tom Smith said he has concerns about how families in the suburban Mercer County district will handle the unusual schedules.

“Say (in) our high school, we split it by last name and half would come Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the others come Tuesday-Thursday, and flip it the next week,” Smith said. “If you’re a working parent, what do you do with the students on the other days? With the child care impact, that’s a challenge to us.”

School districts have a few weeks to craft their reopening plans. They must inform students and families of their schedules at least four weeks before classes begin in late August or early September, state officials said.

NJ Advance Media staff writer Sophie Nieto-Munoz contributed to this report.

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Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com.

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