Principal Strout speaks on school response to COVID-19

Thomas Tait '22, Editor-in-Chief

As part of restrictions enacted in conjunction by Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education, many aspects of daily life at Washington Township High School have changed and continue to change as the start of the school year progresses. One-way walking paths, a hybrid learning schedule, social distanced classes, mandated face coverings, and sanitation stations throughout school have all been established as measures to meet these guidelines. Even with the many changes on campus, the hybrid learning model has been postponed twice to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks on campus.

In order to get some clarity on an ever-changing situation, The Patriot compiled questions for Mr. Strout regarding the hybrid schedule, contract tracing, and the future of our school year.


How has the planning process on a day-to-day level been difficult?

The planning has been most difficult, simply because things have changed often with very little notice.  I know this presents unique challenges for our staff, our students and their families.


How fast do these situations develop? School has been suspended the day before we’re supposed to go back twice now. Is that the fastest these decisions have been able to be made? 

It’s really important to note that many of the decisions that have to be made are determined by our local board of health as it relates to quarantines and the need to close school.  Before these decisions can be made, there is usually a pretty lengthy process of contact tracing that must occur.  This requires interviews of people that take time.  Depending on the number of people involved, this process can take several days before a decision can be made.


How does the contract tracing process work on the administrative level?

Administration works closely with our nurses, our athletic trainers and the department of health during the contact tracing process.  We often receive communication from students, parents and staff long after the work day has ended, and this calls for us to have to drop what we are doing with our own families to collaborate to make a decision.  This has been one of the greatest challenges for me as a father – very often having to step away from my family to address and attend to information in real time.


Why doesn’t administration communicate directly with students on the status of school the next day?

I assume you mean communicate with students via email.  This is something I can do, but as simple as it may seem, just coordinating for an email to be sent adds an additional layer of work.  It’s not work that I’m unwilling to do, but I have to assume that when I communicate directly with parents via email, text, etc. they are sharing this information directly with their kids.


Are there any situations where school could get suspended WHILE there are students in the building? For instance, a student at school gets informed that they tested positive for COVID while in class.

I do not believe it would be likely that school would be suspended with an early release same day.  We have procedures in place to isolate a sick student or staff member in the building that might present as a presumptive positive case based on symptoms.  Other changes might be evident immediately like moving a class to a different room for sanitation, etc. but dismissing students early in the middle of the day presents another significant issue with transportation and food services.  The key thing here is social distancing and mask wearing.  If a student or staff member was a presumptive case present in school during the day and the key factors of mask wearing and social distancing are in place with fidelity, others would not be considered close contacts and would not need to immediately react in the way you’re asking with a full scale early dismissal.


Students have voiced concerns about only having half of their class everyday while on remote, arguing, “if we are on synchronous learning, why don’t we have all our classes every day, instead of only seeing classes twice a week?” How would you respond to that criticism of the schedule?

Our leadership team at the district level is regularly looking at ways to improve instruction for our students.  There are many challenges present with all 8 periods meeting in one day.


Do you believe that the hybrid model has been a success so far?

Today is only the 4th day with students in person.  What I have seen is very happy kids in the building and very happy teachers happy to see their kids for the first time in a long while.  It’s not perfect, but the in-person connections that are going on are so important to getting back to normal for all of us.  It’s definitely a step in the right direction, even if not perfect.


How often do you believe that the school could be moved to full-remote, considering it has already happened twice? How likely is that to happen?

This would be pure speculation on my part.  We will continue to take guidance from our local health department.  If they tell us we have to shut down for a period of time, we will do that.  I can say, however, that given the remarkable compliance that I’ve seen by our students and staff with regard to mask wearing and social distancing these first 4 days of in-person instruction gives me great hope that our safety measures are well implemented.  I give a lot of credit to our students, especially, for adjusting to these new expectations.  Adhering to these safety measures not only in-school but out of school will also be the best way for us to avoid another shut down of in-person instruction.