Majority of Sussex County schools to move to virtual learning amid surge in NJ COVID cases

Numerous school districts in Sussex County have announced the move to fully remote instruction beginning next week into the month January due to a community-wide exponential increase. Please stay safe over the upcoming holidays and remember to practice social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing. Call your health care provider if you begin to feel ill and experience COVID symptoms.

Nearly all Sussex County public schools will be fully remote through at least the middle of December, with some extending into 2021, following a recent surge in COVID-19 cases locally and statewide.

Matthew Beck, president of the Sussex County Superintendents' Roundtable Association, announced Saturday that the vast majority of county districts will pivot to virtual learning until at least Dec. 14, two weeks after Thanksgiving. Some schools will make the change beginning Monday, he said, while others will be in-person for the abbreviated week before the holiday.

Earlier:Sussex County students, staff adapting to unique school year amid COVID-19

"The Superintendents and Boards of Education throughout Sussex County feel that the best place for students to be is in their respective school buildings," Beck said in a letter sent to the New Jersey Herald. "However, the safety and health of our school communities will continue to take priority. It is with the support of our communities that we will continue to overcome the challenges that are presented to us as we continue to provide a quality education for all of our students."

Several districts, including Newton, Sparta and Vernon, have decided to remain fully remote through the middle of January, two weeks after the regularly scheduled winter break. 

"While this decision has been reached through much consternation, conflict, and concern, the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases without detailed deployment of a vaccine will continue to negatively impact the health of our students, families and staff," Vernon Superintendent Karen D'Avino said in a statement Friday. "We firmly believe that students belong in school, learning from teachers and peers and we will continue to work toward five-day-a-week instruction before the end of the school year, as long as it is safe to do so."

According to Beck, Lafayette Township School is the only public school in the county that is not switching to virtual learning through mid-December. The relatively small district, which has 192 students enrolled in pre-K through eighth grade, is planning to only be remote for a week after the Thanksgiving break. 

The decision to move to virtual instruction was made by the roundtable association in consultation with the Sussex County Division of Health, which is reporting a "community-wide exponential increase" in COVID-19 cases.

According to daily reports from the health department, there were 316 positive cases in the last week alone, only 11 fewer than all of October. The increase has moved the county into the "high" classification for cases, and county health officials anticipate moving into the "very high" level as soon as next week.

The state Department of Health recommends that "fully remote instruction should be considered" for any areas in the high classification. In addition, Beck's letter stated, any staff or students with COVID-like symptoms and their close contacts would need to quarantine for at least 10 days, "which would continue to place a large burden on the SCDOH, school districts, and families throughout Sussex County."

As public school superintendents were finalizing their plans for remote learning, the Catholic Academy of Sussex County — which consists of Pope John XXIII Regional High School, Pope John XXIII Middle School and Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School — celebrated its 60th day of in-person learning for the school year.

Monsignor Kieran McHugh, president of the academy, commended teachers and staff for their "heroic efforts" in a letter posted on the district's website Friday. He commented that the 60 days of in-class instruction without an interruption due to COVID "has to be a record, or very close to the top" for any schools that opened this school year.

"You have taken your vocation and profession very seriously and you have put the students first," McHugh told the staff. "You have treated the students as America's greatest treasure."


Source: NJ Herald,