School District Responds To COVID-19 Increases

School officials discussed the district’s response to increased coronavirus risks. (Screenshot by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – Coronavirus cases went from just nine cases in three school buildings to over a dozen cases in six buildings in the past month, which most recently resulted in the quarantine of nine separate classes, said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Farrell during a recent Board of Education meeting.

  Dr. Farrell reported the lower case number during the November Board of Education meeting. Just afterwards, the Department of Health upgraded Ocean County from moderate risk to high risk on the regional COVID-19 matrix, he said.

  “I think I might have jinxed us,” the superintendent said.

  There was yet another increase in the week following Thanksgiving, which resulted in Brick High School going to a 100 percent remote learning schedule for two weeks.

  The decision to switch over to remote learning is not taken lightly, Dr. Farrell said. “It is done with consultation and the recommendation of the Ocean County Health Department (OCHD). We felt it was the best decision to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.”

  Brick High School was the only school in the district that went to remote learning since each school environment is continuously assessed individually, he said.

  The district works closely with the OCHD to receive updated COVID-19 data. Since November 15, the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases that impacted the schools quadrupled, and every building in the district has been affected, Dr. Farrell reported.

  Data from contact tracing information suggests that family gatherings and social events outside of school is the main source of transmission for the new cases. As of December 17, no cases had been connected to in-school transmission, he said.

  “Acknowledging this uptick in cases, and our county high risk designation, I implore students, parents and staff to continue being responsible with practicing CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommended protocols to ensure our learning community’s health and safety,” Dr. Farrell said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Farrell

  With the holiday season comes the risk of additional external COVID-19 positive cases spreading in the community. Dr. Farrell urged the staff and school community to follow CDC protocols over the winter break with regard to travel and social gatherings to minimize any negative impacts on the learning environment upon returning to school after the break.

  Despite the high risk level in the area, Brick was not rated as high risk at the time of the December Board of Education meeting, although the district is not immune to the rising local number of cases, warned Dr. Farrell.

  If the level was raised to high risk, the district would be forced to implement fully remote learning, which the OCHD was not recommending for Brick after winter break, he said.

  70 percent of the district’s parents have indicated that they prefer and choose in-person instruction for their children, Dr. Farrell said. Students have the option of transitioning to virtual learning at any time, he added.

  “Switching to an all-remote schedule when in-person instruction is still viable, is not consistent with our core mission of supporting student growth and cultivating each student’s unique strengths and talents in an engaging, safe and nurturing environment that we value,” Dr. Farrell said.

  Going to all remote learning is an option, given the data, but it’s not the right option at this time, he added.

  The next Board of Education meeting will be the Reorganization meeting at the Professional Development Center on Thursday, January 7 at 7 p.m.

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