A school district in Sussex County is switching to all-remote learning for a month amid rising coronavirus cases and quarantining of staff and students.
Hopatcong Schools Superintendent Art DiBenedetto told NJ Advance Media on Friday that there are 41 suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases involving students and 15 involving teachers at the K-12 district’s four schools.
Students in the district had been receiving up to 4 hours of daily, in-person instruction until Friday, when the schools switched to virtual instruction.
“I know that this decision will not be a popular one with some parents and I am sorry that this is an expected reality. I understand and respect that anger. I only ask that you respect and understand how difficult it is for me to do this for reasons of safety,” DiBenedetto wrote in a letter to parents announcing the change Thursday night.
In-person instruction in Hopatcong on the same, 4-hour schedule is expected to resume April 26, two weeks after the school district’s 1,450 students return from spring break.
The school district has scrapped plans to return to full-time classroom instruction on April 12.
“I said everything had to go right, and nothing has gone right,” DiBenedetto said Friday, adding he is not sure whether full-time classroom instruction will resume before the school year ends June 17.
The switch to virtual instruction in Hopatcong comes as Gov. Phil Murphy has been encouraging the return to classrooms throughout the state.
Hopatcong used all-remote learning for about two months, ending in January, DiBenedetto said.
In his letter, he outlined a litany of challenges facing the district.
“At the primary schools we are dealing with children who are ill coming to school and later testing positive causing whole classes to quarantine,” he wrote, referring to the Tulsa Trail and Durban Avenue schools.
“Students who are supposed to be quarantined are interacting with each other on the weekend further complicating matters. One simply needs to visit Modick Park on a Saturday to witness this,” he wrote.
Asked to elaborate, he said he asked “people in town” to check out the park, and they reported that from 50 to 60 students were present, including four who were supposed to be quarantining.
“I’m not placing blame on them. I’m just saying that’s part of what doesn’t go right,” he said Friday.
DiBenedetto told parents that, because allergies can mirror COVID-19 symptoms, that simply having allergies has resulted in many students quarantining.
“But we have also had allergy symptoms actually be COVID in two cases,” he wrote.
“We have also been informed that staff members who have received both vaccine shots should still quarantine if they travel over the Spring Break. That coupled with family travel cements the following decision,” he added of the month-long switch to virtual instruction.
Please subscribe now and support the local journalism YOU rely on and trust.
Rob Jennings may be reached at email@example.com.