With the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, triggering a wave of confirmed cases and subsequent school closures in New Jersey, the superintendent of the Mount Olive School District has closed school for students Monday to allow teachers to plan for home instruction, should the school need to close.
Mount Olive Schools Superintendent Robert R. Zywicki, made the announcement in a YouTube video posted to the schools’ website and social media accounts Friday afternoon. In the video, Zywicki said that while no cases have been reported in Mount Olive, he is “making preparations” should the possibility come to close school due to the virus.
The school will utilize an unused snow day Monday with teachers required to come in at 8:30 a.m. to make preparations and prepare lessons should school close and instructions continue at home, likely through digital applications such as Google Classroom.
Zywicki said he is following guidance from the state’s Department of Education, who issued alerts to schools that they “may be asked to close preemptively or reactively,” and that schools should prepare in advance. The department said that schools could use home instruction, including online lessons and appropriate special education services.
In a memo sent to schools Thursday, the state’s Commission of Education Lamont O. Repollet said that should the state require a school to close due to a health-related reason — and only for that reason — the days would count toward the 180-day requirement. Should a student or staff member be infected, the state Health Department’s website advised authorities to dismiss school for 14 days — the incubation period of the novel coronavirus.
Sussex County Freeholder Director Sylvia Petillo and the Board of Chosen Freeholders issued a statement Friday, notifying residents that they are working closely with the Sussex County Division of Health to prepare should the virus emerge in the county.
“Members of staff are trained and routinely drilled in emergency response,” the statement said, adding, “We also have volunteers and healthcare professionals from the Sussex County Medical Reserve Corps as well as volunteers from our Community Emergency Response Teams who are prepared to assist in an emergency response to this outbreak.”
Administrators in Sussex County schools have proactively increased communication with parents and students to keep them abreast of what is being done to prepare should the virus force the closure of school.
Sussex-Wantage Regional School District Superintendent Michael Gall issued an updated letter to families in the district Friday afternoon, emphasizing that they are fostering a mindset of “preparedness, not panic” in the school.
“Faculty and staff would refine our plans in this area to ensure equitable access or alternatives for students who do not have access to digital devices,” Gall said.
Newton Public Schools Superintendent G. Kennedy Greene, in a letter on the district’s website, addressed the steps the school was taking to enhance cleaning procedures but also spoke of the stigma surrounding the virus.
He stated, in part, “It should not be cause for fear ... or discrimination based on a population or nationality from a region that may be especially at risk of the disease.”
With three presumed cases of the novel coronavirus in New Jersey as of late Friday evening — two in Bergen County and one in Camden County — community members are reminded to practice good preventative measures, such washing hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer, avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth and stay home if sick.
In Mount Olive, Zywicki said custodial staff are using “electrostatic guns,” which sprays a neutral chlorine solution onto door handles and surfaces to disinfect.
And when it comes to retailers who are selling their remaining stock of surgical masks and hand sanitizer, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs will be spot checking stores and issue warnings if prices on those items rise above 10% of their normal cost. Consumers who want to report price gouging can call 973-504-6240 or file a complaint online at https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov.
While it does not appear many schools have been canceling extracurricular activities and events, Mount Olive has canceled its MakerFest and Robotics competition on Saturday. Zywicki said it was due to vendors and exhibitors who have canceled due to corporate travel bans and teams from out of state who have canceled. He hopes to reschedule the event.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.