Hardyston school district grapples with serious spike in Covid cases

Hardyston. As Sussex County returns to the red zone, school officials balance parents’ preference for in-person classes with health department mandates.

| 16 Mar 2021 | 02:52

There might be a light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, but a recent spike in cases is hampering the Hardyston Township School District’s efforts to return to normalcy.

At the March 9 school board meeting, chief school administrator Mike Ryder reviewed the see-sawing numbers, from the start of school to the present.

He said Hardyston started the year with Sussex County in the green zone, which means a very low risk of Covid-19 transmission, according to Department of Health guidelines. The district went up in risk level, to yellow, from Oct. 10 to 14, then went up again, to orange, which reflects a high level of Covid cases. From Nov. 14 to Feb. 19, the county was in the red zone, which reflects the highest level of threat.

Ryder continued: On Feb. 20 the level went back down to yellow before returning to red on March 4. As of Friday, March 5, the health department reported 75 new cases in the county. The county reported new 153 Covid cases on March 8, and an additional 98 new cases on March 9. To get to the red zone, the county has to see at least 25 new cases per day.

Ryder said school and health officials really thought the cases would go down but instead the numbers have gone up consistently.

“We are using one of our gyms as a nursing station to quarantine people, and the middle school gym was converted back into a gymnasium,” he said. “The nurse is now utilizing the music room. The town is allotted 50% busing capacity.”

Parent survey

Ryder he surveyed parents about combining cohorts: instead of students attending school on their Cohort A or Cohort B status, both Cohort A students and Cohort B students would attend the same day. Ryder wanted to know if he could expect the number of students that attend virtually to increase, as it did for other districts.

According to the survey results, 89.1% of Hardyston families want their children to attend in person, and 10.9% want all-virtual instruction. Such an increase in in-person instruction would put the students at too close a distance and therefore knocks out the option of combining the two cohorts.

The smallest class would have 13 students and the largest would have 22, Ryder said.

When the county remains consistently in the yellow zone, the district will reintroduce Wednesdays as in-person alternating cohort days, in accordance with health department guidelines, he said.

Ron Hoffman, the school board president, said the compassion and diligence of Hardyston’s administrators and board members has never been at a higher level as they are now, he said, despite “the pandemic and the safety zones constantly changing from red zone to yellow zone, and orange zone and back to red zone. Between the shifting numbers and changing guidelines from the Department of Health, he said, “it hasn’t been easy to adhere to the rules, but we must use safety as a base for our class sizes and our virtual/hybrid decisions, including busing.”

Ryder said, “Frustration, anger and impatience will not make the virus go away. We need to work together, follow the rules, and work hard.”

“Frustration, anger and impatience will not make the virus go away. We need to work together, follow the rules, and work hard.” Mike Ryder, chief school administrator