District presents and approves reopening plan


Ellie Kim

District Superintendent Erik Gundersen and Assistant District Superintendent Barry Bachenheimer presented the district’s reopening plan for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. Students can opt for hybrid or remote learning and will be able to switch from one to another during the first week of each month, according to Gundersen. Bus transportation will be provided and fall sports are scheduled to proceed.

Ellie Kim and Sarah Buttikofer

The district’s Restart and Recovery Plan, presented by District Superintendent Erik Gundersen and Assistant District Superintendent Barry Bachenheimer, was approved at the Board of Education’s virtual meeting Monday night held on Zoom. The presentation included the district’s plan to reopen Pascack Hills and Pascack Valley, as well as health and safety measures being taken. 

“This restart and reopening plan is far from ideal. We have all yearned for the day where 100% of our students can come in at the same time,” Gundersen said. “We look forward to that day eventually, but right now we can’t do that.”

The district plans to reopen the school on Sept. 2 and students will be given the option to follow a hybrid schedule, a plan that was initially announced during the Board’s meeting July 23, or attend completely virtually. 

“Students will have set assignments, there will be due dates, and high educational expectations. Students will be working with a great deal of structure,” Bachenheimer said. “The goal is to have school be as regular as it can be.”

The plan separates students into two groups, Cohort A and Cohort B, based on last names, and students who opt for the hybrid schedule will attend school on alternating days. One cohort will attend PV in-person for four periods in the morning, while the other will attend those classes virtually. All students will be sent home during lunch and the rest of the school day will be conducted virtually for both cohorts. 

“Classes are not conducted as a live stream, we are not broadcasting classes live the entire time for a variety of reasons,” Bachenheimer said. “However, there will be live elements employed throughout the class, so that students who are remote will certainly be a part of what’s going on.”

Students who opt for full remote learning will be given the opportunity to switch to hybrid learning during the first Monday of each month, according to Gundersen. Students will also be able to switch from hybrid learning to full remote learning. Gundersen said that if an individual displays symptoms of COVID-19 and is later proven healthy, they would have to wait until the beginning of the next month to come back to school for “the health and safety of faculty and students.” 

“We are going to allow students that are going 100% remote to participate in athletics if they wish,” Gundersen said. 

The district plans to regularly provide updates to parents and students via email throughout the school year. Community members will be able to opt in to receive district announcements through text messages. 

“We decided administratively to update students and parents about once a week,” Director of Technology and Communication Paul Zeller said. “We are trying to communicate then to avoid information overload.”

The district will provide bus transportation and students who take the bus will be required to wear face masks, according to Business Administrator Yas Usami. Buses will also be disinfected after use. 

“As far as regular transportation is concerned, [after we] have a better idea on who is opting out and in, we will be able to balance the bus routes,” Usami said. “Right now we are basically going to double on the [amount of] buses.”

Students are expected to remain socially distanced in the hallways and outside, according to Gundersen. 

“We are making sure that we have enough custodians on-hand during the day,” Director of Facilities and Capital Improvements Robert Donahue said. “In an effort to try to control traffic in the school, we are going to try to limit one-way stairwells as students move between classes.”

The Board answered questions from community members regarding the reopening of the high schools and fall sports during comments from the public. River Vale resident Hana Shapiro questioned whether or not teachers had the choice to teach completely remotely. 

“I understand that through the state teachers are considered essential workers, and since Pascack Valley is a public school, that adheres to state regulations,” Shapiro said. “I was wondering if teachers had any say as to whether they would be able to teach in-person or remotely, similar to the student options.”

Gundersen said all teachers that are part of the district are “expected to come into work on Aug. 31.” However, the district will work with individuals who have certain health risks to “develop reasonable accommodations,” which could consist of additional precautions, as well as the opportunity to work remotely, according to Gundersen. 

“We very much want to be mindful of the health conditions of our existing staff members and also alleviate some of their concerns as well,” Gundersen said. 

Hillsdale resident Michael Cuffe asked questions regarding the start of the fall sports season. 

“I know every team [that has] been scheduled to play this fall has been working-out since mid July and we are not really hearing anything,” Cuffe said. “We are curious if the workouts are starting, because the PV property opened for them.”

Gundersen said that the district did not begin the regular voluntary summer sessions for athletics at the usual time because there were “concerns about staffing, logistics, and health and safety protocols.”

“The BOE had to vote on some modifications to coaching contracts that were approved this evening, which gives coaches the ability to work directly with their players for two weeks,” Gundersen said. “That is purely voluntary and there is no expectation by the district that coaches participate with their students in the summer.”

Summer practices were approved to begin tomorrow and continue until Aug. 28. After those two weeks, all athletics will stop until Sept. 14. 

“Workouts can start tomorrow and they will be on campus. There will be temperature checks, there will be protocols in place, [and] all students will have to be socially distanced as they’re participating in purely conditioning exercises,” Gundersen said. 

The Board approved several staff positions for the 2020-2021 school year, including Andrea Kesselman as the instructional assistant and Daniel Pasquale as the 4/5ths music teacher for PV. Zabrina Kearns was approved as the district special education and transition coordinator, as well as Alyssa Merritt as the regional instruction and curriculum coordinator. The district approved Marisa Gallione as the PV assistant cheer coach, Kacey Terzini as the PV head cheer coach, and Tiffany Mulholland as the PH assistant cheer coach. 

The listing of staff positions for the PV and PH athletic departments, for the fall and winter seasons, was approved by the Board. The district also agreed to provide additional compensation for coaches whose athletics are impacted by COVID-19. 

A reduction of $166,666 in state aid given to the district was also addressed. New Jersey is “staring directly at a $1 billion cut in aid to our public schools,” according to Governor Phil Murphy. The BOE authorized the School Business Administrator to withdraw $166,666 from the maintenance reserve in order to cover required maintenance costs and balance the budget.

“Not only do we want to protect your child, but we want to protect every child, and our school staff as well,” Nurse Rose Welyczko said.