Ananya Dondapati, Ria Prasad, Raunaq Nona Saharan, and Jack Carter

The Knightly News Editorial Board

Following a full school reopening for the first time since March of 2020, administrators have faced the unique challenge associated with bringing a body of students and staff of more than 2,000 into a confined building—one that was already struggling with available space during large gatherings like lunches, pep rallies, and assemblies in the first place. Further complicating the situation is the governor’s executive order requiring that all schools open fully in-person, with no virtual schooling except for in cases where students were potentially exposed to COVID-19. This put the district in a tough position of managing a fully in-person reopening, without the option of virtual schooling to fall back on should complications arise. We sat down with Dr. Jonathan Dauber, Principal of High School North, Dr. Lee McDonald, Assistant Superintendent and Head of Pupil Services/Planning, and Mrs. Barbara Gould, Director of Counseling, Health, and Wellness, to discuss how they made the impossible possible. 


The process of opening a school during a pandemic isn’t an easy task. But with an idea of what health and safety protocols needed to look like after already having gone through a year of COVID, administration began to lay the foundations for the 2021-22 school year. Dr. Lee McDonald, Assistant Superintendent and head of Pupil Services & Planning, recounts:

“Coming into this year, we had three committees that were put together including district staff members from every department. One committee in particular was specific to health and safety. That committee wrestled with a lot of the research that was out there. We’ve used Department of Health recommendations, government mandates to come up with the best possible plan while looking at all of the mitigating measures possible {…} There’s a ton of planning that happens behind the scenes: working “The decision for all students to be in-person was not a district-based decision. It is important to note that it was a decision that was made when the Executive order was ,terminated by the governor. Districts no longer have a choice to provide virtual instruction to students. We were essentially told by the Department of Education that we had to bring all students back in person. So some of the strategies we were able to use last year. Well, for example, giving parents and families a choice to either be in-person, hybrid, or virtual, no longer available to us as a district.” and grounds, cleaning protocols, food services, the list goes on and on. It’s a huge, huge undertaking.”

    • Executive Order No. 175 by Governor Murphy of the State of New Jersey outlines the regulations and protocols NJ school districts were required to follow upon reopening. Visit it here.

      Governor Phil Murphy regularly attends coronavirus briefings as a part of his implementation of executive orders over the course of the pandemic | Pool Photos by Kevin Sanders/New Jersey Globe

    Still, a handful of decisions regarding our re-opening weren’t up to these committees, administration, or even our Superintendent Dr. Aderhold himself—they came straight from the top. Mrs. Barbara Gould, from her chair in the Central Office, explains: 

    “The decision for all students to be in-person was not a district-based decision. It is important to note that it was a decision that was made when the Executive order was ,terminated by the governor. Districts no longer have a choice to provide virtual instruction to students. We were essentially told by the Department of Education that we had to bring all students back in person. So some of the strategies we were able to use last year. Well, for example, giving parents and families a choice to either be in-person, hybrid, or virtual, no longer available to us as a district.”

    As we continue to advance farther into this year, school administration has been forced to accommodate an approximate 1,500 student population. Administrative decisions, we’ve seen, arrived after countless compromises and prioritizations. Dauber says:

    “Even in the UDH, it’s clearly Grand Central there. You’re standing still for maybe, what, 30 seconds. And you have a mask on. So the likelihood of getting COVID in that congested area in that small period of time, passing someone in the hallway or stairwell… it’s likely not going to happen.We had to balance those decisions around what’s going to work for us in terms of getting students where they need to be and not putting them in risk of being hurt or sick.”

    One thing is for sure; the changes aren’t over yet. Things are constantly evolving as staff is constantly reevaluating. Gould chimes in: 

    “We are actually going to have a meeting coming up with the local health department, which is another thing that’s important to note. We meet with them very regularly, probably several times a week as a district, to discuss trends, patterns, recommendations, things that are happening within their schools, suggestions that they may have, asking these types of questions.”

    One issue that is still of much debate is how to handle student travel, especially around the holiday season.

      “Right now, the rules are slightly different for students and families with students who are vaccinated versus unvaccinated. But all of those are recommendations, so we as a district have chosen, based on recommendations, to have students quarantine if they are unvaccinated if they have traveled. Most of the districts around us are not implementing that. They are not requiring students to quarantine. That’s an ongoing conversation that we will be having as a district. Will students be required to quarantine or not? It’s a question we don’t have an answer to yet.”

      Of course, the main issue on everyone’s mind is—what do I do if someone tests positive? As Dr. Dauber explains: 

      “The first procedure is to have a conversation with the person who tested positive or showed symptoms, whatever the case may be. What have your experiences been? How did you get to school? Did you get on the bus? Did you come with a parent? When you were here, and you went to Block 1, Block 2, Block 3, Block 4, through your 6th blocks, and you start to have that conversation with that student about the people who have been around them in those areas. What we’re looking for is people who have been within 3 feet for a period of 15 minutes”

      How, over the course of the year, has the district addressed students’ and families’ concern?  As the Director of Counseling, Health, and Wellness, Mrs. Gould recounts: 

      “Last year, if you were sick, you could just Zoom into class, and you could easily have access to virtual instruction.  When the executive order went away, we no longer have virtual learning. So the only time we can offer that is if there’s a specific COVID-related quarantine.  People get upset about that because it was something we provided last year, and it’s not because the district doesn’t want to provide it, we have been instructed that there is no virtual learning, that it almost doesn’t exist unless someone is excluded for COVID related reasons.” 


      As we look forward to the rest of the year, there’s no doubt both administration and the student body will have to face the ebbs and flows that come with recovering from the pandemic. As a result of this conversation, the Knightly News will be sitting in on and covering Executive Board Student Council meetings over the next few months, specifically those dedicated to safety protocols and the responsibilities of students and stuff amidst , launching our recurring column: 

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