Students will have virtual classes Monday. By MADDY VITALEThe Ocean City Board of Education voted Wednesday night to approve the school district’s Return to School Plan, which offers a blend of remote learning and in-person instruction, with a choice for all-virtual instruction as well.The first day of school will be Tuesday, Sept. 8. Students’ schedules will be mailed out on Aug. 17.During the remote meeting Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor and School Board President Joseph Clark, emphasized during the virtual meeting that, while they are navigating unchartered territory, they feel confident that students will be offered a quality education“I want to thank you for your support as we embark on an exciting new school year of learning and success,” Dr. Taylor said. “Our goal from the onset has been to protect the health and well-being of our school community as we work to resume in-person learning and continue delivering an exceptional educational experience for our Ocean City students.”Since the mid-March shutdown of schools across the state by Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order amid COVID-19, Ocean City school officials worked with stakeholders from various areas, students, faculty, and community members, to create the hybrid model for learning.“This plan is the result of efforts to work as a community to put our students and family’s needs first,” Clark said.What emerged from months of collaboration, was the hybrid model of learning. Students will be split into two groups to allow for social distancing. Each group would have two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote instruction.For those who will not attend in school they will have the Virtual Academy, which will offer the same educational tools and learning as in-person instruction, school officials said.“The combination of in-person and virtual learning in the hybrid schedule also ensures that we have plans in place to support both styles of instruction,” Dr. Taylor emphasized. “We have spent the summer planning how to return to in-person learning as safely as possible during a pandemic, and we also have worked to reflect on lessons learned during our spring transition to virtual learning so that we can make improvements.”Last month, Dr. Taylor detailed the reopening plan in a letter to families that can be viewed on oceancityschools.org.In it, she stressed that it was a challenge to strike a balance between the CDC’s Health Guidelines and Considerations for Schools and maximizing in-person instruction.During the meeting Wednesday, several Return to School Plan committee members spoke about their specific roles in creating the plan.Ensuring that students will receive all of their school supplies, including electronic devices for virtual learning and seeing to it that children receive lunches whether they are in class or at home for instruction were top priorities.In addition, committee members discussed directional hallways to further social distancing, and health screenings by parents or guardians of their children to ensure that they are well to come to school by checking their child’s temperature, etc.Parents will also be given the opportunity to waive bus ridership, since it is a difficult area to practice social distancing, officials said.Above all, school officials said the most important aspect of the hybrid model is that the district is prepared to be flexible to meet a family’s needs as well as following and meeting the health guidelines.“The bottom line is, we are committed to making both methods of instruction the best they can be, and that also means we are flexible and can switch to full-time in-person or full-time virtual schooling as circumstances change,” Dr. Taylor said.Clark called the months of work leading up to the district’s Return to School Plan a “monumental task.”Like Dr. Taylor, Clark noted that, from the start, “We knew that we must share our expertise and ideas to take on the monumental task of sorting through both the New Jersey Department of Education’s Restart and Recovery Plan and the CDC’s Health Guidelines and Considerations for Schools.”One of the difficulties in determining the best options for students and families came down to “new and last-minute guidelines from the governor’s office addressing fulltime virtual learning and the ever-changing, and often conflicting, advice from the various state and local health experts and officials,” Clark said.“Please know that the decision to begin the school year with a hybrid learning environment is based on what we believe is best for the Ocean City School District at this time,” he said. “I can say with great confidence and pride that the Ocean City School District is prepared for the 2020-2021 school year.”The district submitted the reopening plan to the County Superintendent from the state Department of Education for review before it was presented at the meeting of the Board of Education.For more information on Ocean City schools, visit www.oceancityschools.org.