Time is winding down until the start of the school year with a plethora of questions for school districts across the state with options to go with in-person learning, hybrid learning or all virtual to begin the 2020-21 school year.

Pressed for time and in trying to help parents, teachers and staff prepare for what to do now instead of a couple days before the year begins is what some districts have been doing this week.

The Toms River Regional School District is the latest to follow that philosophy and have announced that they will be going all virtual for education to begin the upcoming school year with hopes of transitioning to hybrid and then all in-person at some point when it is safe to do so per state and health guidelines, Superintendent David Healy told Townsquare Media News on Friday afternoon.

"We presented on two occasions, following hundreds of hours of work, we put together a comprehensive and meaningful hybrid model which was combination of virtual and in person but despite us having that plan in place, there were staffing issues that plagued us," Healy said. "We still have 170 staff members that won't be able to return. We also had a number on leave and maternity staff members we couldn't find replacements for this year. The staffing issues put the breaks on hybrid learning. We looked at everything."

With staffing issues present and the school year right around the corner, Healy thought it best to make a decision now and give everyone time to plan.

"Two weeks out, we couldn't do it," Healy said.

While a tough decision, he feels it was the right one to make given the current circumstances.

Healy also believes that many other school districts across the state will soon be following suit in opting for an all virtual start to the academic year.

"We believe it's inevitable for most districts in New Jersey," Healy said.

There are new guidelines out that present scenarios Healy doesn't want to roll the dice on and risk starting in a hybrid or in-person schooling and then be forced to close down the school within a week of it opening.

"Let's say we can open a school and then one student comes down with coronavirus in one class and another in another class....according to the document we would have to close school," Healy said.

If one student and one teacher contracted the virus, the class would have to quarantine for 14-days and then there would be contact tracing going on to determine where the virus was spreading.

This is why Toms River Schools will be going all virtual i the fall.

"It's the right thing to do is to go virtual, then hybrid, it's the most courteous thing to do," Healy said. "We always keep students and staff safe. Our decisions are educational, well thought out and data driven. it's a painstaking process."

Healy has also been in communication with the Ocean County Vocational Technical School which has a location on the campus of Toms River High School North and said the district will be accommodate them the best they can.

"Many of the students who go there are at risk students who need to be engaged and can't be home with nothing to do," Healy said. "We're offering transportation and allowing those students who drive to (OCVTS) drive in but they have to sign a liability waiver."

There is a meeting coming up, likely Tuesday, as the district also works to accommodate special education students.

"We're going to provide parental and health support. We're going to help support them and some of the challenges that they now have to face with being the teachers in the household," Healy said. "The school district is here for them, the Board of Education is here for the and teachers are here for them."

As for athletics, fall sports are still on for Toms River Regional Schools and are being managed according to the state and health guidelines.

"We'll follow directives and guidelines and have PPE, social distancing and sanitizing," Healy said.

Sports will continue as scheduled unless something happens Covid-19 related or guidance changes from the state.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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