Strout gives updates on changes to COVID protocol at school

Thomas Tait '22

In a year full of constant change, Washington Township Principal Jonathan Strout gave The Patriot updates about changes in coronavirus restrictions on campus, and he was able to illustrate how reopening campus might look next year.

Masks no longer need to be worn outdoors when the temperature outside is hotter than 75 degrees, Strout said. He added that students are still expected to social distance when outdoors, but the changes to mask rules and the removal of walking paths are among the first signs of a return to “normal” on campus.

Following the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that fully vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear masks indoors, many began wondering when fully vaccinated students would be allowed to come into school mask-less.

Strout explained, “…Governor Murphy announced that [in] schools, masks are still required inside. There’s no way we could possibly, no way we could possibly know who’s vaccinated and who’s not.”

Strout added that it was hard to imagine the indoor mask mandate for schools changing before the end of the school year on June 17th. The district could always enforce stricter mask mandates than that of the state Department of Health, but the district does not have the authority to be more lenient than the state. On May 28th, the New Jersey mask mandate will end for businesses and many other areas of public life, but schools will still be required to enforce masks on campus.

As transmission rates in Washington Township and Gloucester County have decreased, so too have rates at WTHS, with the in-school transmission rates of COVID-19 on campus being close to zero since the school reopened for full day instruction.

As the 2020-2021 school year concludes, attention has shifted towards the reopening of school in September. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on Monday, May 16th that all public schools will be required to open 100% in person, and they will not be offering a remote option.

Strout said that administration fully expect next year to look much more like a “normal” school year, with the school district hoping for a return to in-person group work and discussion and the comeback of tables to many classrooms should social distancing restrictions be loosened.

In addition to the expected changes in safety protocol ahead of next year, Strout said it was “almost definite” that a homeroom will be added to the schedule next year to facilitate an easier transition between days of the TWP PRIDE schedule for both students and teachers.

“We really need a starting point,” Strout said, “we learned a lot this year about attendance and attendance recording…it’s just too important to have a consistent starting point.”

Strout hypothesized that the new homeroom period would be about five minutes long and would dock one minute from each period. The period would be used for morning attendance, announcements, and the Wake Up TWP! show.

Strout also said that he doesn’t want to commit to the permanent cancellation of finals and midterms, but added, “I’m certain we’re not going back to marking periods…I think that there’s a pretty good chance that those [midterms and finals] will not return either.”

Strout also added that snow days and other forms of emergency closures will be unlikely to return, with it being likely the school will move to remote learning on days when students aren’t able to come to campus safely.